September 2, 2008

‘Doubt’ Returns to Washburn

By Bill Blankenship

By Bill Blankenship


Just as uncertainty sometimes lingers, so, too, does a play about it.

Washburn University Theatre will share with anyone who missed it this summer, its production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, "Doubt, a Parable."

Encore performances of John Patrick Shanley's script will be staged Thursday through Sunday in Washburn's Andrew J. and Georgia Neese Gray Theatre.

Set in 1964 in St. Nicholas Roman Catholic School and Church in the Bronx, the play unfolds at a time of uncertainty.

The Second Vatican Council was under way with bishops around the world considering changes that some continue to debate today. Americans were still reeling from the assassination of President Kennedy, and the rise of the Civil Rights Movement would bring its own challenges.

At St. Nicholas, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Karen Hastings), the school's principal, stands as a defender of the status quo. There is no room in the old nun's mind for social relativism. Her beliefs rest on moral certainties.

However, Father Brendan Flynn (Michaul Garbo) arrives as a new associate pastor ready to embrace the spirit of Vatican II and usher in a new era for the church and the relationship between its clergy and laity.

When Sister Aloysius watches the school's first black pupil, 12- year-old Donald Muller (who is never seen in the play), seem to recoil from a touch from the priest, she becomes suspicious.

She shares her concerns with one of the school's new teachers, Sister James (Laura Vetter), who slowly begins to doubt the priest's explanation of something she observed.

Sister James had smelled alcohol on the breath of Donald after he emerged from a private meeting with the priest, but Father Flynn explained he caught the boy drinking sacramental wine but kept it secret to avoid having to dismiss the church's first black altar boy.

Things get murkier when Sister Aloysius summons the boy's mother, Mrs. Muller (KaWanda Richardson), her office. The woman reveals things about her son's "nature" but expresses gratitude for the priest's support and refuses to ally herself with the nun.

Whether or not Sister Aloysius is on a righteous crusade against evil or persecuting a young priest as a symbol of threats to her long-held tenets is the unresolved question.

Phil Grecian, who reviews theater for The Topeka Capital- Journal, praised the Washburn production of the play, which on Broadway earned eight Tony Award nominations, and won four Tonys, including the one for Best Play.

After Washburn's production closes Sunday, there will be more "Doubt."

Due in movie theaters Dec. 12, just in time for consideration by the Academy Awards, will be a Hollywood version starring two Oscar winners: Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn.

"Doubt" also is on the schedule at Topeka Civic Theatre & Academy as part of its Studio Series, set for a May 8-17 run.

Paul Prece directs Washburn's "Doubt," with set design by Tony Naylor, costumes by Sharon L. Sullivan, sound design by Maxwell Fredrickson and stage management by Brenda Blackman.

Bill Blankenship can be reached

at (785) 295-1284

or [email protected]

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