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March 5, 2007 | by  | in Theatre |
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Doubt

By John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Sue Rider
Circa until March 10

When a play is marketed as the winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and it’s subtitle is “a parable”, it’s not hard to feel a sense of duty to get the wider point. However, Doubt also functions as cracking good piece of theatre. The pleasure is in the mystery, so I won’t reveal the entire story. Set in a Catholic Church and school in 1964 the Bronx, New York, Sister Aloysius (the brilliant Helen Moulder) is suspicious of Father Flynn (Simon Ferry). For her “innocence can only be wisdom in a world without evil”, and convinced of Father Flynn’s guilt, but without substantial proof, she makes it her mission to bring him down. But are her accusations real or imagined? Is it her dislike of his progressive teaching methods, and belief that the clergy should be more accessible to the parish? Or is she acting on gut instinct, and belief in her “certainty”?

The writing is succinct – the scenes flow back and forth, allowing us only enough insight into these characters to keep us hooked, but not revealing the absolute “truth”. Rider’s direction is taut, making great use of the triangular acting space, as Father Flynn speaks directly to the audience as if we were his students, or the congregation, drawing us in with his wit and affability. The acting is strong from all four actors, with Shanley’s sly language enabling each actor to hint at their character’s hidden motivations. At its core, Doubt is a moral tale about how far we’ll go for the truth, what sacrifices we’ll make and at what human cost. It’s an important enough tale on it’s own, but it’s that irksome little word in the programme – “ a parable” that ensures the audience will think about the wider significance of the events in the play.

Shanley writes in the tradition of Miller’s The Crucible – which used a literal seventeenth century witch hunt in America, to comment on McCarthy’s techniques to root out communists in the 1950s. Doubt is written in 2004 and Shanley presumably aims to comment on 9/11 and the Iraq War – i.e. the lengths Americans will go to rid themselves of the unease and doubt gripping the nation post 9/11. Doubt seems to argue that the determination to have a resolution, a result, has overtaken the fact that the perceived “enemy” may be innocent.

Doubt shows us that the structures of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, applied to new subject matter and seen through a modern viewpoint can be just as powerful as they were in their own time. This tight, enthralling drama is well worth seeing. Eleanor Bishop

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About the Author ()

Well hello there. Eleanor was the Theatre Editor in 2007, now she writes the Women's Column and just generally minces about the Salient office. Eleanor is currently an Honours student in Theatre (with a touch of gender). She also has a BCA in Marketing but she tries to keep that on the d-low (embarrassing, because she loves academic integrity and also perpetuating the myth that she's a tad bohemian). If you've got a gender agenda, woo her by taking her a BYO Malaysian. She lies, if you show any interest at all she'll probably tackle you in the street and force you to write a column.

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