Review: 'Doubt' at Chestnut Street Playhouse
- OnStage Connecticut Critic
Doubt (a parable) is a story of a priest whose behavior is called into question. As it opens, Father Flynn addresses a congregation regarding the topic of collective grief versus individual doubt or guilt. The topic resonated with me, given the recent tragedy in Orlando. Father Flynn asserts that we are all connected, whether our grief is collective as a society, or whether we are facing down our own demons, because we all have them. We are never alone. We are all the same. But are we, really?
Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the principal of St. Nicholas School, fears that something is amiss between Father Flynn and one of the male students, and plants the seed of doubt with the classroom teacher, young and idealistic Sister James. Despite the younger nun’s uncertainty, the two set out to determine the priest’s guilt or innocence.
Linda MacCluggage gives a standout performance as Sister Aloysius. Her rigid demeanor belies a fierce protective nature that befits any capable mentor, and as an audience member, I believed that she truly cared about what was best for the students above all else, despite some of her overly conservative and outdated viewpoints about secular music and ballpoint pens.
Casey McDougal is equally convincing as naïve Sister James, who prefers to see the best in everyone and assume that all is well. Her desire to look on the bright side sometimes clouds her judgment, and the pain of her uncertainty is visible on her face.
Patrick Robinson takes on a difficult task as Father Flynn, a character who is unsympathetic but must come across as sympathetic enough to be believed innocent. His sermons to the congregation and his scene addressing the students on the basketball court are his strongest, because in these he comes across as benevolent and even-tempered. In his scenes with the sisters, I felt that he perhaps seemed a bit too contentious, which makes him seem guilty. The interesting (and tricky) part of this play is that Father Flynn must be likable, so that the burden of proving him guilty is greater. At one point, Sister Aloysius says to Sister James (and I may be paraphrasing), “You must try to picture a person very unlike yourself.” Mr. Robinson gave a great portrayal of a kindly priest in the pulpit, but I thought that he seemed to panic a bit too quickly when confronted about his wrongdoings, perhaps because it must be very hard to imagine that you are a person who sees little wrong with exploiting children. However, no villain believes himself to be a villain. As I’ve said, Robinson has taken on an extremely challenging role, and gives a solid performance. That said, I felt that the calm and certain delivery he gave his sermons could be carried over into his scenes with the nuns a bit more in order to give his character more credibility.
Aurelia Clunie is incredible in her one scene as Mrs. Muller, mother of Donald Muller, the student who is Father Flynn’s alleged victim as well as the school’s first African American student. Her struggle as a mother stood out to me as an allegory of the current ongoing debate about gun control. What is more important—that her son be safe from exploitation, or that he receive an education? That he be safe from his father’s wrath, or his mentor’s lasciviousness? She struggles with these questions just as we currently struggle with how to prevent further senseless acts of violence, whether it is through simple prayer or stricter regulations.
Chestnut Street Playhouse is a small space, and seating is located to the left, right, and front of the stage. I was seated to the left, and from my vantage point, the cast did a fine job of presenting themselves at various angles so that all audience members got a sufficient view of their faces. I might suggest not sitting too far toward the upstage wall if there is a choice in seating.
Doubt continues its run this Thursday, June 23rd, through the 26th. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at http://www.chestnutstreetplayhouse.tix.com, or by calling (860) 886-2378.