“Doubt can be a bond as powerful as certainty.”
Father Brendan Flynn opened with a sermon to the audience of Saturday night’s showing of Company Carolina’s “Doubt: A Parable.”
The UNC student theater group presented this rendition of John Patrick Shanley’s Tony-Award winning play this weekend in the Historic Playmakers Theatre.
Set in a Bronx Catholic School in the year 1964, the play does not address religion but rather concerns uncertainty. The plot depicts Sister Aloysius’ quest for the truth with regards to the improper relations she suspects Father Brendan Flynn is having with one of his students.
Yet religion does enter the equation when mounting suspicion and distrust lead the innocent Sister James to question what it means to be part of the Church. The boy in question being the school’s first African-American student, issues of race and belonging in the transitional epoch after the assassination of President Kennedy are added to the mix.
Directed by Andrew Jones, Company Carolina’s production is a shining illustration of what student shows can achieve with a limited budget. A mostly handmade show, as Jones himself called it, it nonetheless boasts first-rate production values.
Though Historic Playmakers Theatre is an unquestionably beautiful space — its wooden beams and church-like feel conducive to the production of such a play — its unusual set-up was nonetheless skilfully utilized by the set designer, Ben Elling.
The team managed to use the narrow stage to their advantage. A barely adorned half-built brick wall — revealing the custom-made stain glass hung on the backdrop — as well as a desk and chairs, were the set of Sister Aloysius’s austere office, while a bench and branch in the left corner were used for outdoor scenes.
Creaking floorboards and the lack of performance space, although noticeable, did not take away from the show. On the contrary, the cramped set fit perfectly with the uncomfortable atmosphere of the narrative, and the intimacy of the theatre itself was a significant component of the overall experience of the show. Its narrow disposition led to the audience becoming involved in the plot, and to them accompanying the characters in their search for the truth.
A realistic organ score made up the sound-scape, leading a couple audience members to turn around in search of the elusive church instrument.
Erik Peterson as Flynn, the young charismatic and reformist priest, particularly won over the audience with his side-splitting rendition of an old Scottish pastor.
Madison McKenzie Scott, though sometimes tripping on her lines — after all who can blame her, as she probably had the most substantial amount of text in the play — was the perfect blend of righteousness and dry humor.
And Khloe Michelle Valissari, though appearing briefly, held her own in her able portrayal of the pragmatic but loving Mrs Muller.
Nevertheless the Palme D’Or in this production goes to Leila Kaji, who beautifully interpreted the naïve and kind Sister James, adding emotion to comedy — with the skillful tremor of her voice — yet never once falling into a caricature of the character.
Although the spectators, faced with an ambiguous ending, are left to come to individual conclusions, it was unanimously that they stood up in praise of Company Carolina’s rendition of “Doubt.”
Staff writer Anissa Putois attended the Saturday, Oct. 27, showing of “Doubt.” She gives the performance 4.5 stars out of 5.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.