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Civic Playhouse's 'Doubt' a tale for current times

Civic Playhouse's 'Doubt' a tale for current times

A solid production of this play of ideas
Civic Playhouse's 'Doubt' a tale for current times
Cristine M. Loffredo and Angelique Powell in SCP's "Doubt."
Photographer: Jennifer Moak

The parable that Father Flynn (Ben Katagiri) delivers in his homily at the beginning of John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” will, in the course of events, turn out to have personal relevance.

Or maybe the inspiration for the homily already comes from his own experience?

SCP is offering a solid production of this play of ideas, ideas like responsibility, institutional power, race, faith, etc.  A biblical epigram on the script says, “In much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” There are a handful of marvelous moments when one character is just about to depart the scene and is called back by another. In that hesitation lies the agony of wanting to know more---and fearing to know more.

The story: Sister Aloysius (Cristine M. Loffredo), head of a parochial school, hears a scrap of information from a teacher, Sister James (Meigg Jupin), that makes her suspect the behavior of Father Flynn towards one of his male students, the school’s only African American pupil. She confronts Father Flynn, who resents her implication that his behavior is inappropriate.

She summons the boy’s mother, Mrs. Muller (Angelique Powell), whose take on the situation does nothing but complicate matters for Sister Aloysius. Despite a stunning revelation in the last scene, doubts remain, both on stage and in the audience.

Two aspects of the production give me pause. Loffredo’s tight wimple makes it difficult to read the actress’s face from up the aisle, and though her line readings and gestures are spot-on, I’d like to have seen her expressions. And Robin MacDuffie’s set.  On the one hand, the clever use of ivy to connect the three permanent locales--pulpit, office, garden--and thus suggest the hermetically sealed quarters of the Church, is effective. On the other hand, I wish that Sister Aloysius’s office were larger in order to let the cat-and-mouse games play out more dramatically.

Director Tom Templeton, with assistance from Mark Stephens and producer Donald Mealy, has helped the cast efficiently lay the groundwork in Act I and deliver a thrilling Act II, where the emotional lives of all four characters are laid bare. Jupin poignantly shows Sister James’s decline from enthusiastic teacher to cautious functionary. On opening night Powell rightly earned a round of applause for her vivid cameo as a mother whose life is full of challenges the clergy know little about. 

Katagiri and Loffredo subtly create a push me-pull you tension that keeps us wondering about who cares more about the children, what the past of each has to do with the present, and how—as an older woman and a younger man-- they have each dealt with the politics of the Church. The actors make the breakdowns of Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius (a name meaning “famous warrior”) in Act II credible and moving.

“The Crucible” and “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You,” both of which also deal with conviction and uncertainty, came to mind on Friday. Like them “Doubt” is a stimulating night in the theater.

Doubt: A Parable

WHERE: Schenectady Civic Players, 12 S. Church St.
WHEN: Through Mar. 26
MORE INFO: 382.2081, or civicplayers.org

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