This is a thoughtful, well-wrought play that is bound to challenge, dabbling as it does in minefields which inevitably stir passions, suspicions, anger, fear, guilt, and most of all, doubt.
When the innocent are blamed and get punished, when self-righteous suspicion breeds guilt with no evidence, when innocence is killed in the name of virtue, when reputations are besmirched on the basis of prejudice, and any action in defence can be interpreted to confirm the suspicion, what is one to feel?
John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” masterfully stirs all these emotions and questions, and the STC’s production, directed by Julian Meyrick is indubitably a credit to his intentions. Christopher Gabardi is a convincing and appealing Father Flynn, a priest struggling to bring his genuine faith and commitment into the modern post-Vatican II era. But what is he not telling us?
His accuser, School Principal Sister Aloysius (Jennifer Flowers) confidently and stridently sticks to her guns as she fires round after round at him, based on her prejudice-loaded determination to maintain her belief. But is she really convinced in the end?
Kate Box is a delicate and impressionable, yet passionate and committed Sister James, a teacher who is caught in the cross-fire, and sees both sides, only to become confused and wondering if she should be doubting both.
Pamela Jikiemi brings international experience to the fore in her crisp portrayal of the mother of the innocent boy at the centre of the tension, who we never meet. Her powerful contretemps with Sister Aloysius brings new dimensions to the mix, faithfully defending her son (the first black student in the school – and this is the Bronx, 1964). She knows some of the truth, and can shed some new light on the question, but is she turning a blind eye to some possibilities to avoid something worse?
Apposite music and lighting complement the stark unforgiving convent set, with a slide-out functional Principal’s study. The direction is tight, and at the hands of this fine cast, the play itself is the star. It tells of the tragedy and poison of suspicion and mistrust in a context that purports to be ruled by love. Yet if love is shown to the loveless – either by a priest who may or may not have decent intentions, or by a teacher devoted to her class, is it inevitably seen as improper?
In the words of John Patrick Shanley himself, “Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite.”
I am certain that there is no doubt that everyone left the theatre with uncertainty.
State Theatre Company of South Australia presents Sydney Theatre Company’s production of
By John Patrick Shanley
Venue: The Dunstan Playhouse
Dates: 5 – 22 September 2007