Excellence beyond doubt

Doubt: A Parable (That Production Company)

Studio 188

December 3 – 12

“What do you do when you’re not sure?” …. The initial words of “Doubt: A Parable” are shared as part of a sermon about the notion, however, their speaker, Father Flynn (James Trigg) could just have as easily have been talking directly to the audience about the conundrum at the centre of the show itself, filled as it is with contemplative notions to linger long after its experience.

This is the power of “Doubt: A Parable”, John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatic exploration of the idea of certainly verses ambiguity and the lengths that we should go to in support of what we believe is right. They are themes with modern resonance, untempered by audience disassociation from its context of a 1964 civil rights America still reeling from the assassination of President Kennedy, as the work also taps into fears of fundamentalist intolerance corruption and clerical abuse of authority.

At the St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx, the Sisters of Charity teach children under the watchful eye of Sister Aloysius (Rachel Hunt) whose unflinching demeanour keeps everyone on the straight and narrow. When a number of dubious events raise her suspicions, she wastes no time in cornering her respected and much-loved parish priest superior and convincing the innocent Sister James (Lauren Roche) of his guilt at having an indecent relationship with the working class Irish and Italian school’s token black student, Donald Muller.

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Having once again chosen a robust work, That Production Company more than does justice to its stellar script. The small cast all are measured in performance, in manner that suits the text. As Mrs Muller, Asabi Goodman is heartfelt in reflection that the Father is her son’s only friend, engaging audience empathy in her controversial acceptance of any relationship if only to keep him in school because ‘maybe the Father is doing some good too’.

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Roche’s performance as Sister James, is perfectly paced – diminutive in response to her superior’s determination to bring down the father with or without her help and reflective in her desire to never have become involved. Commanding the stage, however, Trigg conveys an immediately likeability that makes it easy to imagine his affinity with the (unseen) children, yet is simultaneously so convincing in role as a Irish man of the cloth that you almost fine yourself making sacramental sign of the cross along with him at sermons ends.

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However, it is Hunt who gives the most astounding performance as the widowed Sister Aloysius, initially an almost quaint, nostalgic relic of a society since passed and ultimately bitter and unsympathetic. Her performance is controlled to the finest of details of reaction to the use of ballpoint pens and condemnation of Christmas pageant music, always conveying an unwavering self-righteousness in her modulated delivery of biting dialogue and so sanctimonious as to make you want to slap her as, like Shakespeare’s Iago, she pours pestilence into the ear of the young Sister James with suggestions such as “they look smug, like they have a secret.” Far from progressive in her approach as Convent Principal, she presents as a perfect antagonist to the vibrant popular parish priest in her personal crusade for his removal and their final, passionate confrontation showcases a masterful performance from them both.

Staging is simple and effective, thanks to clever design to open up the space through the creation of faux walls, and good use is made of it, even down to entrances and exits, which is of greater importance for a work with so little stage action. So snappy is its dialogue though, that its running time flies in a flurry of changed audience opinion as to who might be right.

Although it certainly stands a show in good stead, solid source material can be no guarantee of excellence. In this instance, however, it is supplemented by the company’s respect for the work’s integrity that makes it well worth an Ipswich trip. With little doubt, That Production Company is a company to watch, thanks to their quietly ambitious show choices that continue to impress.

Photos c/o –  LeAnne Vincent Photography

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