Oscar Wilde wrote that “The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple” and I can’t think of a better dramatic example than the Cardinal Stage Company’s staging of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt at the John Waldron Arts Center. This is a review that will be one question after another.
Is the attractive young Father Flynn played engagingly by Mike Price a pioneer of the church’s changes under Vatican II with concern for the individual students in his school and community in which it resides or is he a scandal marked pederast? Is the rigid school principal Sister Aloysius played with frighteningly stony confidence by Diane Kondrat a solid example of the virtues of the old church or a spiteful man hating dinosaur standing in the way of the church’s growth and change?
In the middle of this battle is Lilia Vassileva as the sympathetic young idealistic teacher, Sister James. She’s alternately beaten down by the cold rigidity of Sister Aloysius’s suspicions and buoyed up by the gentle joy and concern of Father Flynn. For any play these three characters would be enough, but John Patrick Shanley has something really special to throw into the mix.
Milicent Wright appears as Mrs. Muller, the concerned and solidly worldly wise mother of the young African-American boy who’s at the center of Sister Aloysius’s suspicions about Father Flynn. She’s happy that her son has gotten into the catholic school. Graduating from there in just a few months will allow him to go to a better high school and perhaps even to college. In his previous school he was beaten up regularly. It’s a shock even to Sister Aloysius, but the mother frankly doesn’t care about what she regards as the school’s internal problem.
In this surefooted and confident production directed by Fontaine Syer, there is simply no way to be sure. Every time you marshal the evidence to support the case for the one, you either find holes in your argument or counters from the other side. The father seems to be a positive good hearted young man with real concern, but what about the rumors from earlier parishes? The sister certainly has years of service and rectitude, but what about her obvious disdain about the manhood of young boys and her willingness to lie about the oncoming blindness of one of her staff?
What about the young nun. Is she more in need of the compassion and joy that she exudes or a bit of starch in her spine? And how about the mother, does her balance of fear for son’s safety and hope for the future against the possible present danger make sense?
Well? Well, I warned you that this review would be just one question after another.But, here are some answers.
The Cardinal Stage Company’s production of “Doubt” at the John Waldron Arts Center continues with Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening performances and Saturday matinees through May 10th
Listen to WFIU’s George Walker’s interview with Diane Kondrat and Mike Price.