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Doubt raises questions and is ‘utterly engrossing’

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Emily Ross as Sister James, Stephen Notman as Father Flynn and Therese Bean as Sister Aloysius in Doubt (Photograph supplied)

This production of Doubt, a Parable, John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 masterpiece, is set in the 1960s and focuses on sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

It raised many questions and was utterly engrossing; the BMDS cast, director and crew did more than complete justice to it with well executed performances.

The whole play forms an extended essay on the concept of doubt. Acerbic head mistress Sister Aloysius Beauvier, convincingly played by Therese Bean, seems to embody the opposite of doubt with her belief in moral purpose and rigid discipline. She develops a suspicion that her superior, parish priest Brendan Flynn, is targeting Donald Muller, the first and only Black pupil in the school. Her suspicion slowly develops into obsession.

By contrast, Brendan Flynn, excellently portrayed by Stephen Notman, is an effective, charismatic preacher and a popular basketball coach who believes in an empathetic, more relaxed teaching style. He is also quite open about the concept of uncertainty and doubt. He even gives a sermon about confronting and living with it with the conclusion: ”Doubt requires more conviction and more energy because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite.” Does this statement point to his ability to camouflage guilt or is it a veiled admission?

Emily Ross is perfect for the young, idealistic history teacher, Sister James, who provides a third perspective. With her innocent remarks about the pupils’ and Flynn’s behaviour to Sister Aloysius, she unwittingly stokes Aloysius’s suspicions and her idealistic self-confidence becomes eroded by self-doubt.

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

When Sister Aloysius arranges a meeting with Donald Muller’s mother we meet the one character living outside the strictures of the church. For Mrs Muller – played with poise and huge stage presence by Aziza Furbert – is the character least affected by doubt and adherence to principles in the whole play. She is convinced that to protect her child’s future as a graduate from a good school, she has to turn a blind eye to homophobic and racial prejudice and perhaps unwanted sexual attention as well. A shocked Aloysius asks: “What kind of mother are you?” The answer is in those racist times: pragmatic and realistic.

Ironically, for reasons revealed in the play’s climax, it is Sister Aloysius who becomes racked with doubt at the very moment she could have triumphed. The audience is left with a clearer view of the male machinations of the Catholic Church.

The setting was highly effective, a triptych depicting church, garden and headmistress’s study – perhaps suggesting heaven, earth and hell.

Lighting and sound were professional and unobtrusive; the performance was bookended by cleverly chosen music: Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence at the start and Lennon and McCartney’s Eleanor Rigby at the end.

Director Sheilagh Robertson, producers Jennifer Osmond-Campbell and Emma Muggleton and cast and crew are to be congratulated on this excellent production.

• Doubt, A Parable runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Daylesford Theatre at 8pm. Tickets, $35, are available at www.ptix.bm

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Published February 21, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated February 21, 2023 at 7:35 am)

Doubt raises questions and is ‘utterly engrossing’

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