By PAM HARBAUGH
Titusville Playhouse’s 2nd Stage becomes the intimate spot for looming questions in its eloquent production of “Doubt: A Parable.”
Indeed, as set in this small space and brought to life by a stellar cast, there is no escaping the disquieting confrontation in John Patrick Shanley’s drama.
Set in 1964 at a Catholic church school in the Bronx, the play begins with Father Flynn asking in his sermon “What do you do when you’re not sure?” Your bond with others gets you through lapses of faith; it’s a burden, he says, when “No one knows that I have done something wrong.”
We switch immediately to the sparse office of Sister Aloysius, the school principal, as she encourages a new teacher, Sister James, to restrain enthusiasm. As a none too innocent afterthought, Sister Aloysius tells Sister James to report if she sees Father Flynn engaging in any inappropriate behavior with the boys.
Those words unleash a torrent of suspicion, threatening reputations for all involved. Like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible,” Mr. Shanley’s “Doubt: A Parable” reveals the power of a simple question asked in a climate of distrust.
Director Tara Kromer keeps an elegant sparseness to the production, allowing the drama to breathe. Her characters engage with each other, have real conversations and reveal emotional arcs.
Shanel Sparr brings an innocent luminescence to Sister James. We see her struggle with her own doubt and find the strength to stand up to those stronger than her.
The wonderful Mandi Jo John disappears into her nuanced portrayal of Mrs. Muller, the mother of the young student who Father Flynn is accused of molesting. Ms. John brings quiet integrity to role, evincing both the torment and hope she feels for her son, the school’s only African American student.
Linda Lawson Jones paints a vivid picture of stern Sister Aloysius, who grimaces at the thought of using ballpoint pens and chastises innocence as being a “form of laziness.” Ms. Jones brings out the malevolence in her electrifying confrontations with Father Flynn, portrayed with gusto by Patrick Ryan Sullivan.
Mr. Sullivan has some sly moments to Father Flynn’s meeting with the Sister, showing how one simple actorly action can resonate. His delivers such power in his character’s sermons, you want to shout “Amen!”
Kudos to the design staff: Scenic designer Jay Bleakney’s use of dried leaves to suggest the outdoor setting is exquisite; and lighting and sound designer William Gibbons-Brown maintains sharp division between acting areas in this small venue and adds atmosphere with the sounds of a gathering storm and delicate bird calls.
This play is rife with themes. You’ll leave with questions, and that, according to the playwright, is human. As Father Flynn says, “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you’re not alone.”
Photo: Linda Lawson Jones and Shanel Sparr in ‘Doubt’ at Titusville Playhouse.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Doubt: A Parable” runs through Sunday at Titusville Playhouse’s 2nd Stage, a block away from its box office which is at 301 Julia Street, Titusville. Tickets are $15. Call 321-268-1125 or visit www.TitusvillePlayhouse.com.