Doubt: A Parable

Review of Doubt

Perry Tannenbaum
Creative Loafing Charlotte
11.18.08

Note to North Carolina Stage Company: there is definite overlap between your audience here in Charlotte and ticket-buyers who pick up on the serious dramas at Belk Theater in the Broadway Lights Series. There's no other reason why the Asheville-based company, after building up massive goodwill with Moonlight and Magnolias and It's a Wonderful Life in previous stints at Spirit Square, should be unable to fill the front row at Duke Energy for their superb realization of Doubt.

Apparently patrons who saw those productions must have snapped up tickets when Tony Award winner Cherry Jones headlined the national touring edition of John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer-Prize parable on the pitfalls of rectitude, righteousness, and certainty. To them, I repeat my accusation: too much Shakespeare! You've been Bardwashed if you think only Shakespearean classics are worthy of multiple viewings.

Shanley's script isn't only an exploration of what consequences a charismatic priest, Father Flynn, should suffer when he's suspected of molesting Donald Muller, the first black student at St. Nicholas Catholic School in the Bronx -- some 40 years before the Boston pedophile priest scandals. The clash between Flynn and school principal Sister Aloysius, stubbornly convinced of his guilt and implacably determined to force his removal, is still riveting. Provocatively, Doubt also explores questions of how to teach, how to parent and how to be Christian. With a side order of gender issues.

If Rebecca Koon and Brian Robinson, both two-time CL Actors of the Year, aren't quite as towering as Jones and Brian O'Byrne were in the original Manhattan Theatre Club production, it's partly because neither Koon nor Robinson have any Tony Award auras for director Hans Meyer to defer to. All the better for letting the spotlight fall a little more tellingly on the supporting characters -- young Sister James, caught in the Flynn-Aloysius crossfire and experiencing a gut-wrenching crisis as a teacher, and Mrs. Muller, facing a sensational crisis in parenting.

Let me be blunt. Robinson and Koon are as good as ever, placing their own unique stamps on Flynn and his nemesis, while Julia VanderVeen as Sister James and Brandie Moore as Donald's mom are better than the actresses I've seen before in those roles -- at the PAC or in New York.

So avoid the flames of hell and get your butt over to Spirit Square this week, OK?