The Bronx, 1964. At a tight-knit Catholic school, Sister Aloysius (Penny Larkins) suspects her superior is using his role as priest to get inappropriately close with students. The play Doubt: A Parable greets us with an opening sermon, benefiting from the intimate theatre; drawing us in with the charming orator Father Flynn (Daniel Humphris).
Accusations arise from the youthful Sister James (Krista Thomson) whose naïve and innocent nature is confronted with a difficult situation, a circumstance Sister Aloysius knows all too well. As the stern and scrupulous leader of the school, Sister Aloysius will not let her instincts fade, making for a powerful performance as we watch characters debate their worries, search for the truth and deal with uncertainty.
Although it tackles serious subject matter, the play infuses humour with Sister Aloysius out-dated views on education and her serious glares. These satirical moments establish the old worldviews and offer the audience catharsis from the potential serious problem.
The play is so gripping because of the intrigue we have for the priest, who appears to be a genuine man caring for a new student of “negro” appearance, but soon we realise something more sinister is afloat.
Watching the events unfold, the audience often finds themselves waiting to catch him in an off-guard moment, for the sake of Sister Aloysius’ reputation. But simultaneously, we are also secretly hoping that he was the pleasant role model many believe him to be, and that the horrific accusations against him would be anything but true. This delicious tension keeps the audience enthralled, with the performance peaking at the confrontations between Flynn and Aloysius, constantly forces the audience to search for the truth and ultimately ask, did he do it?
Taking advantage of the unique space, characters enter from numerous directions, alluding to a bigger world beyond what the stage allows. The use of lighting to transition between scenes is done so with ease and is especially effective when Father Flynn stands at the edge of the stage, breaking the fourth wall to actively engage the audience with his parables.
With a minimalist set it is always clear to see where characters are, allowing for dynamic blocking. The acting from the cast is superb; some of the most outstanding moments achieved were those of silence, just watching their facial expressions deal with conflict.
The play’s final scene gives a beautiful closure, although it’s not the one the audience may want. Sister Aloysius’ faith drives her determination to punish Father Flynn for his crime, but with just as much certainty she is also filled with doubt.
Parables are simply tales we tell to explain what we mean because real life is too complex or too horrific to confront. Doubt: A Parable doesn’t seek to offer answers, it shows us that uncertainty is part of all our lives and our response to the unknown is as much the answer as the truth itself.
Doubt: A Parable is playing at Chapel Off Chapel until August 22nd. More information and tickets available via their website.
Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!