The Community Players finish their 94th season this month with the tense drama, Doubt: A Parable, which plays at Jenks Auditorium July 10 through July 19. The play draws attention not only because of the screen version starring locally educated actress, Viola Davis, but also because any performance that involves Catholicism tends to draw attention. The stage play came before the film and follows the story of a Catholic School Principal, Sister Aloysius (Mary Paolino), who suspects the parish priest, Father Flynn (Joe Wilkicki), of improper contact with one of the students. There is no proof, only her suspicions.
The play was written by John Patrick Shanley in 2004 after the Boston priest abuse scandal story broke in 2002. Doubt: A Parable begins with Father Flynn giving a sermon on the theme of doubt. “When are you sure you aren’t sure?” Playwright Shanley set the play in 1964 shortly after Pope John the 23rd convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962, addressing relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world. Sweeping changes were overtaking the church. As in Doubt: A Parable, some members of the church immediately took up the new ways, Like Sister James and Father Flynn in the play, while others stubbornly held to the past, not sure the changes were for the good of all.
Paolino’s Sister Aloysius starts as a shallow, grim stickler for the rules. However, her character is revealed as the play progresses. Wilkicki’s Father Flynn is upbeat and positive, but becomes angry. Both are strong, well-matched actors portraying strong-willed characters. Even though Father Flynn is taller than Sister Aloysius, she doesn’t back down an inch when they confront each other over the suspicions. Paolino stands firm, as if a tank couldn’t knock her down. Excellent vocal skills on all the actors’ parts allowed the audience to hear the weight of each word spoken. I do wish director Eric Barbato had let these two “cheat” outward during the heat of their confrontation, however. Due to the design of the nun’s habit, it is often difficult to see Sister Aloysius’ face.
Sonya Joyner makes an impressive impact as Mrs. Muller, mother of the boy suspected to be the object of Father Flynn’s “affections.” Dressed in a flattering pink suit and hat, Joyner is solid and sure onstage, fully inhabiting her character. She also does not give an inch in the confidence of her convictions. Aubrie Bagdasarian, as Sister James, gives a wonderful, balanced performance as the young, hopeful nun who teaches the 8th grade class. Her scenes with Sister Aloysius are emotional, but not saccharine or cloying. Bagdasarian stays grounded in her own beliefs and convictions.
The stage is set up with one-third representing the church and its garden outside. The other two-thirds represent Sister Aloysius’ office. It contains proper period furniture and pictures, but is three times the size of any normal Catholic school office. If the space were contained in a smaller area, it would have better lent itself to the claustrophobic feeling the conversations and actions of the play evoke. Lighting is right-on with timely cues and nuances. During the pre-show, organ music plays with appropriate dignity.
This battle of wills between priest and nun is epic, each waiting for the other to wither from the intensity. The summer production is no flimsy hot weather also-ran. It is a taut, quality performance that should be seen by all.
Doubt: A Parable is at Jenks Auditorium in Pawtucket July 10 through July 19. For more information and tickets, visit thecommunityplayers.org or call 401-726-6860.