John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer and Tony Award winning play can be an intriguing, absorbing and satisfying experience, whether performed by world-famous talents on Broadway, regionally known talents in professional theaters or volunteers in a local community theater. Proof of the latter is provided by the new production at The Port City Playhouse which runs at the Lee Center through April 11.
"Doubt, A Parable" is a play that puts many questions before the audience but refuses to provide simple answers. Instead, it leaves them open for discussion and debate after the curtain falls on the ninety minute, one act production. The show may well be brief, but with the fine performances of this four-member cast, the audience leaves with their need for theatrical satisfaction fully met.
The performance of Adriana Hardy is at the center of the piece and she carries the load with grace and intelligence.
She plays a nun who is the principal of a Catholic school in Boston in the early 1960s, a woman who came to the calling late in life after the death of her husband, and thus, a somewhat more worldly woman than some who wear the habit. She develops a suspicion that a young and extremely popular priest in the parish has made inappropriate advances on one of the young boys in the school.
Her sense of duty and responsibility compel her to take some action but she doesn’t have proof – only doubt. What should she do? What should the student’s teacher, a young sister new to the classroom be expected to do? That young sister is played with a nice combination of youthful sincerity and insecurity by Corrine Brush.
So, what of the priest in all this? Blakeman Brophy plays this young priest who is charming, enthusiastic, committed to the "new openness" of the Catholic Church under the Second Vatican Council with a freshness that is appealing. Then, when confronted with the Sister’s doubts, he responds with strength. His reaction is crucial to Shanley’s entire point – is his denial genuine? Is his reaction based on fear of the consequences of the Sister’s accusations, being insulted by the very thought that she could harbor such suspicions, or is there guilt underlying the reaction?
Brophy follows the script carefully, leaving enough ambiguity in his portrayal to let audience members make up their own minds. That is precisely what Shanely wanted from the actor playing this part, for the play isn’t about pedophilia in the church, it is about what its title says it is: doubt. Had Brophy played the part as either clearly guilty or clearly innocent, the essence of the play would have been violated.
Director Frank Pasqualino draws superb performances out of all three of the principal players, and the production is also well served by Anissa Parekh, who has a single but memorable scene as the mother of the young boy.
The production is but more proof, if any were needed, of the ability of quality community theater companies such as Port City Playhouse, to present superb performances. This has been a particularly strong season for the company, with fine productions of "An American Daughter" by Wendy Wasserstein and Ira Levin’s "Veronica’s Room" thus far. "Doubt" will be followed later this spring by John Patrick’s "The Curious Savage." Serious fare being given seriously satisfying treatments.
<i>Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.</i>