According to Merriam –Webster, a “parable is a short story that teaches a moral or spiritual lesson.” What John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize winning, Tony award winning play, Doubt, has to teach, leaves an audience pondering long after the curtain call. Set in a Catholic school and the adjoining church in The Bronx, New York in the year 1964, the time is one of increasing turbulence and change, both socially and politically. President Kennedy recently assassinated, the war in Southeast Asia heating up, and the civil rights struggle asserting itself. For the Roman Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Counsel (Vatican II), convened by the well-loved Pope John XXIII, initiated changes that caused both consternation and gratitude in both priests and parishioners alike.
The ironbound school principal, Sister Aloysius (excellent Eileen T’Kaye), rigid in her beliefs and sure of her righteousness, instructs the young nun, Sister James (Erin Anne Williams), a loving, emotionally open young woman who loves her job and her students, to take a more detached and formal attitude with her students. She also instructs her to be observant of the way Father Flynn (Michael Polak), a charismatic, thirty-something priest, interacts with the students. Flynn clearly loves his work. He exudes enthusiasm in the pulpit, delivering his sermons with zeal. With students he is kind and caring.
When Sister James, unsure and hesitatant, comes to Sister Aloysius to report that a boy, an eighth-grader, returned to class withdrawn and with alcohol on his breath after a private session with the priest, the older nun goes into full inquisition mode, morally sure that the priest had “interfered” with the boy, who significantly, is new to the school and black, the first and only such student. She had been suspicious for a while, after all, the priest wears his fingernails long and is chummy with his students, especially the boys.
Some questions are answered when the final character, Mrs. Muller (passionate Tamika Simpkins), the boy’s mother, arrives for a conference with the principal. She broadens the scope of the play with allusions to her intimate domestic and social situation and her life beyond the microcosm of the school and church.
The ninety-minute play, lean and tightly written, unfolds with ever-increasing tension as the ecclesiastical opponents thrust and parry in a moral duel that both thrills and rivets, with Sister James and Mrs. Muller, as well as the unseen boy, becoming collateral damage.
John Patrick Shanley’s script is a masterpiece superbly directed by caryn desai. The production is given a first-class production at International City Theatre with set by Christopher Scott Murillo, lighting by Karyn D. Lawrence, costumes by Kim DeShazo and sound by Dave Mickey.
Doubt, A Parable runs through September 11 at Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 330 East Seaside Way, Long Beach.