“Doubting Thomas” at the Bloomington Playwrights Project is a nicely crafted, strongly acted story of Thomas, Tom Stoffel, and his struggle to lead a pure Christian life. Born again Thomas is tempted away by the intellectual delights of the complexities of doubt with Professor Peter, Jim Hettmer. But, he’s inspired by the example of the charismatic Pastor Bob, Frank Buczolich and the pure love of his born again fiancée Julie, Emily Goodson.
“Doubting Thomas” is the second play by John Green that I’ve seen at the BPP. His comedy, “The Liquid Moon,” explored married love and infidelity in a mature way with the wife on the left, the potential girl friend on the right and a friend to comment from the middle. In “Doubting Thomas,” Green is a bit more flexible. Although Thomas does shuttle to the left for the study sessions with Professor Peter and to the right for his apartment sessions with Julie and Pastor Bob mostly occupies the center. Director Gail Bray has aptly used Shane Cinal’s multi set design with Travis Staley’s lighting to keep the pace of the drama both varied and propulsive.
As Thomas and Julie get closer to their marriage the tensions build and skeletons rattle in everyone’s closet. Fiancée Julie has become pretty rigid in her beliefs, but was a run away only barely saved from a life on the streets as a druggie and a hooker. Pastor Bob, now an image of respectability, had a first wife when they were both wild Unitarians. Professor Peter had a fundamentalist wife who broke down totally as he became more of a free thinker. And Thomas, well, he’s on his second round of being rescued from homosexuality.
In the preshow description of the emergency exits and the necessity of turning off cell phones, the house manager warned that there would be a gun shot. As “Doubting Thomas” progressed, it became a bit of a guessing game. Would the rigid Julie do what she threatened and shoot Professor Peter. Professor Peter and Pastor Bob have a visceral dislike for one another and each feels the other is a threat to Thomas, might one of them violate the eighth commandment. And what about Thomas…after all the gun was a memento from his slain hero father. And he’s been put into painful conflict by both of his mentors and even his fiancée is using the “I’m Ok, you’re not OK” language couched in the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
“Doubting Thomas” is a thoughtful play. It doesn’t preach, but there are more than a few messages about the basic challenges of life. They’re the old ones. Who are we? Why are we here? Mostly we ignore these perplexities and go about our business as if we know enough to get by and that’s all that’s important. But it’s good from time to time to dust them off and give some thought to how these underlying questions really do shape our lives.