Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Doubt at the Drury Theater at the Cleveland Playhouse on March 5, 2008

Running at the Cleveland Playhouse’s Drury Theater until March 23, Doubt delivers on its promise that it will lead to thought and discussion long after the curtain closes.
The play set in the world that I once grew up in, the absolute Catholicism of the 1960’s, where priests and monsignors ruled over parishes, and mother superiors and old school principals ran shotgun over convents and grade schools.
Doubt is a short (75 minutes without an intermission) look into the lives of four characters, a young charismatic priest Father Brendan Flynn (Michael Frederic), the old style school principal Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Barbara Andres), the young and enthusiastic but innocent eighth grade teacher Sister James (Jennifer Ruffner), and Mrs. Muller (Charene Snow), the mother of the half Italian half Irish parish school’s first black student.
The play revolves around gray matter in a world where everything was black and white, and everyone thought he or she knew his or her place. Before women’s lib, before the Beatles, before Vietnam, before the pill. It was the time of everyone having two parents at home, and no one would second guess a teacher or a parish priest. Sister Aloysuis suspects the young priest Father Flynn is getting “too close” to one of the students, the school’s only black student. Sister James gets caught in the middle as the boy’s teacher. Father Flynn comes off at first as just a priest reaching out to a confused and troubled youth. And the mom Mrs. Muller comes along and puts a whole different spin on the situation in the play’s best seen between her and Sister Aloysius.
The ending is surprisingly predictable because of the time period which the play is set in, but bearing to mind what has happened since then in the scandals of the Catholic Church it gets you really thinking of things that you once thought as gossip or hear say, and puts a little doubt into each and every one of them. It reminded me of when I finally left behind the convent I went to school at and finally made it to an all boys Catholic high school. A thousand boys from thirty different parishes, and as in all all male environments, nothing was sacred when it came to jokes and put-downs. And every so often someone would tell a joke about some dirty old priest doing something to an innocent alter boy and everyone would laugh, except for a couple of boys who would look and away and pretend the joke was funny.
The cast is almost perfect, and would meet the approval of anyone who did attend Catholic school. The play was written by John Patrick Shanley, who attended Catholic school in the Brooklyn in the 1960’s. He won both a Tony and a Pulitzer for Doubt. The Playhouse’s production is directed by Seth Gordon, with scenes designed by Russell Parkman. Up next at the Playhouse are an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice opening March 21, and their annual Fusion Fest from April 18 until May 11. For more info visit their website at www.clevelandplayhouse.com.

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