Theatre – Doubt: A Parable

Venue: The Old Fitz Theatre, Woolloomooloo
Written By: John Patrick Shanley
Directed By: Dino Dimitriadis

Winning the Pultizer Prize in 2005, Doubt is tightly constructed, topical and gripping theatre. Written in 2004 at a time when the Catholic Church was coming under scrutiny for having failed to take action against alleged child abusers, the play raises the confronting question of what is right action in an uncertain situation.

Set in 1964, the action taking place in St Nicholas Church School in the Bronx, pits a conservative elderly nun, Sister Aloysius (a commanding Belinda Giblin), principal of the school, against a younger and more tolerant and popular priest, Father Flynn (a subtle Damian de Montermas). Suspecting Father Flynn of morally questionable behaviour upon the basis of a glimpsed reluctance of a student to be touched by Father Flynn, Sister Aloysius enjoins a young nun, Sister James (a sensitive Matilda Ridgway), the duty of being “alert”. When the impressionable Sister James reports an incident in which Donald Mullen, the school’s first black student, returns from a talk with Father Flynn smelling of communion wine, Sister Aloysius feels her suspicions are confirmed. She confronts the priest directly with Sister James as a witness.

The difficulty Sister Aloysius will have in addressing corruption within the church is effectively expressed in a tiny scene in which the urbane Father Flynn sits himself in

Sister Aloysius’s chair.  To one side of him is Sister James pouring his tea and to the other side, the much older Sister Aloysius bent over and searching for sugar to put in his cup. In one stroke the male-centred Catholic hierarchy is revealed as the major obstacle to the resolute nun’s determination to do what she sees is right. Another obstacle is Father Flynn’s charm and his gift of the gab which he exerts from the pulpit as well as on the naïve Sister James. However, a surprising and unexpected obstacle comes from Donald Mullen’s mother (a wonderfully moving Charmaine Bingwa), who, desperate for her son’s success, and in full knowledge of his inclinations, is prepared to accept the “special friendship” offered by Flynn.

Ultimately, when it comes, Sister Aloysius’s victory is Phyrric. Not only is she defeated by the hierarchy but her defeat undermines her lifelong faith in God.

Congratulations to Dimitriadis on a robust yet sensitive direction of a powerful play and to the astonishing capacity of the actors to engage the audience at every moment of the action. A minimal set, fit for purpose (Jonathan Hindmarsh) and smooth stage management (Maria Spataro), showcased the high standard achieved by this superb production.

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