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Race, religion, and ‘Doubt’

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Heavy topics: Aziza Fubert plays Mrs Miller in Doubt, John Patrick Shanley’s award-winning play that opens at Daylesford Theatre tonight (Photograph supplied)

In the early 1960s, races were segregated and there was a common belief that priests could do no wrong.

That’s all thrown into question when Donald Miller becomes the first Black student of St Nicholas, a Catholic school in the Bronx.

His arrival coincides with an investigation of a popular priest by the principal, Sister Aloysius.

It just so happens that Father Flynn is “advocating reform of the school’s strict customs” when his attention to Donald comes under scrutiny.

Whether the priest has done anything wrong will likely make for interesting conversation once the curtain goes down on Doubt, A Parable.

John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play also won a Tony Award; it opens at Daylesford Theatre tonight, the latest production of the Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society.

“The child grooming may or may not have occurred and of course there's the theme of religion, and belief, and your faith in God,” said Aziza Furbert who plays Mrs Miller, the young boy’s mother.

“It's a Catholic school and Sister Aloysius, she has to think: this priest, he’s supposed to be a man of God, how could he potentially do this to a child? What does that mean for this organisation that I'm a part of?”

Aziza Fubert and Therese Bean in Doubt, John Patrick Shanley’s award-winning play that opens at Daylesford Theatre tonight (Photograph supplied)

Doubt was released as a film in 2008. As a mother, the role gave Ms Furbert a lot to think about.

“The subject of child abuse is one that needs to be discussed in Bermuda and there's a lot of organisations here that help people to become more knowledgeable about it – Scars is one of them.

“I’m a mom, I have two little boys of my own, and I think people in positions of trust have more access; they are more able to do things like this.

“You hope that they won't but it's good to be informed and to know what to look out for and to be able to tell your kid what to look out for.”

It’s not the first time she has been part of a dramatic production. Always cast “in the chorus in high school musicals” she was surprised when Rebekah Nebard contacted her about Veils, a play BMDS put on in 2019 about two Muslim women studying in Cairo.

“I played the role of an American college student who was going abroad to study in Egypt just as the Arab Spring was getting going.

“It was dealing with cultural differences between her and her roommate; everything that was going on and her expectations, and it was largely about the hijab and Muslim women and showing that they're not a monolith.

“That was really important for me as a Muslim woman to be able to play a role in that and while there were moments of levity in it was quite heavy – there was a bit of racism, patriarchy and sexual assault – especially towards the end.”

Emily Ross as Sister James, Stephen Notman as Father Flynn and Therese Bean as Sister Aloysius in Doubt, John Patrick Shanley’s award-winning play that opens at Daylesford Theatre tonight (Photograph supplied)

Nemeses, a contender in BMDS’s Famous for 15 Minutes playwriting festival last year, was the antithesis – a comedy that didn’t require her to memorise quite as many lines.

“It's a comedy and it was really funny. It gave me a chance to do something much shorter – a 15-minute show as opposed to a two-woman, hour-and-a-half show. And now I'm back in a heavy role with Mrs Miller.”

She only appears in one scene, called in by Sister Aloysius who suspects Father Flynn of having an improper relationship with Mrs Miller’s son.

“She is concerned about him because he is the first Black student to attend the school; she worries that the other boys are going to hit him because he's Black.

“She's very concerned about this child, but then it comes to her attention that he was drinking wine in altar. And she's concerned that the priest has given this boy this wine and basically this play centres around did he do it?

“Did he not do it? And then she calls the boy's mother and I come in and I have a conversation with her that is rather unexpected, I would say.”

Although she loved Nemeses, it was a treat to return to the stage in a more weighty role.

“I knew that it was quite a complicated role and after having done Veils I was interested in doing something that was a bit tricky again, a bit dramatic compared with my last comedy role, which was a lot of fun but it's nice to get a character to sink your teeth into.”

Doubt is set in 1964, in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. As inspiration, Ms Furbert drew on some of the things she’d heard from her parents of life back then.

“They were about the same age as Donald Miller would have been at that time. And so thinking back on their stories and what they've told me about that time period, and their own experiences with integration, I think helped me to get into the mindset of the role.

“In our time we have the knowledge of everything that happened – of priests being moved around from place to place rather than being reprimanded or taken out of the system.

“So we come into watching this with that background knowledge. Whereas I think what comes out through Sister James's character that Emily [Ross] plays is kind of this innocence. that everything is holy and wonderful and this couldn't possibly happen.”

Doubt, A Parable runs tonight, tomorrow and Saturday at Daylesford Theatre and continues February 23, 24 and 25. All shows begin at 8pm. Tickets, $35, are available at www.ptix.bm

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Published February 16, 2023 at 7:23 am (Updated February 17, 2023 at 8:05 am)

Race, religion, and ‘Doubt’

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