Doubt, a Parable at Langham Court Theatre November 18-December 5, 2015. A review.

Doubt, a Parable at Langham Court Theatre November 18-December 5, 2015. A review.

Doubt, by John Patrick Shanley, at Langham Court Theatre, is substantive, powerful, perplexing theatre filled to the brim with riveting, satisfying and deeply human performances.

Set in the Bronx in 1964, post Vatican II, Doubt is a chronicle of a time passed, a peek into a period of history that represented a sea-change in the Catholic Church’s and society’s organization, while at the same time, representing moral dilemmas perpetual to the human condition

Do we manufacture calamity by our suspicions? Are our doubts founded? What is the place of certainty? When does certainty give way to doubt? Can we compromise on our deep convictions?

Doubt a Parable Langham Court November-December 2015

Sister Aloysius (Fran Patterson), Father Flynn (Wayne Yercha) and Sister James (Emma Hughes). Photo: Don Keith

Fran Patterson as Sister Aloysius, the principal of St Nicholas Church School, her spine and character stiffened with certainty and rigour, does battle with the world and the forces of evil in a scrappy no-nonsense, and yet, not unkindly, fashion. There is the definite sense that every waking moment is given over to concern for the welfare of her charges—both students and teachers. Below an otherwise impenetrable exterior, lies a hint of warmth, and an understanding, however wrong-headed she may find it, of her place in the Church’s pecking order. Small moments of humour and comedy alleviate what could easily become a one-dimensional character—the dreaded “Nun Principal”.

Her spiritual advisor and superior is young father Flynn (Wayne Yercha) who also coaches boys’ basketball. When young Sister James (Emma Hughes) comes to Sister Aloysius with concerns about a student and inappropriate behaviour on the part of the priest, the latter, out of concern, believes she must act.

The interplay of power is fascinating, and much rests in the wily parry and thrust between the two opponents. Sister James, while junior, is so much more than a mere foil, her role intrinsic in this careful balancing act; Hughes excels in displaying youthful impetuousness and the contrasting desire to be molded and mentored—her face echoing the waves of contrasting emotions.

These characters live in a world far beyond the ken of most theatre-goers, one where duty, devotion, piety and even fealty form the very fabric of being. To transform from 21st century citizens into individuals consecrated to God’s mission on earth demands gruelling, circumspect work. Director Don Keith is meticulous in his attention to detail. Father Harrison Ayre was called in as ecclesiastical advisor and his wise counsel ensures faithfulness rather than lip-service to ritual and ceremony.

Yercha’s first sermon is portentous—solemn and reassuring, yet hair rose on my arms.

Rosemary Jeffery as the student’s mother, Mrs Muller, is the epitome of conflicted—attempting to draw the most advantage out of a terrible situation, just as she has always had to do.

Doubt is also a personal play, with interpretations highly subject to each audience member’s lived experience and history. I grew up Catholic during this era and although small town island living is far from the boisterous neighbourhood of the Bronx, the subject matter was instantly relatable. This may not be the case for everyone, however the compelling work by this excellent cast will very quickly carry people along and into the world of St Nicholas’ Church School.

As designer, Keith has effectively created a church inside Langham Court Theatre with his inter-locking, maze-like set and scenery that folds out to reveal the different locations. Among many outstanding features are the allusions to vaulted ceilings and columns, the spectacular stained glass windows (kudos to the artist) and one particularly effective design feature–the flame-like trees in the central courtyard; any Catholic would instantly see the theme of the Holy Ghost. Although this may be completely unintentional, it was nevertheless note-worthy.

Sound design by Jason King is serious and grave, and contains a particularly impactful and unsettling moment when whispering fills the theatre. Light (Carol-Anne Moore) bathes the church in subdued tones with jewel-like accents, and shines brightly in the courtyard garden. Pearl Arden’s costumes take us back to a time of elaborate robes when members of ecclesiastical orders were singled out in appearance from the common person.

A swirling intellectual & deeply human mystery, Doubt is sure to please people hungry for substantive performance; Shanley’s script is expertly interpreted in this multi-faceted production.

Doubt, a Parable by John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Don Keith
Langham Court Theatre
November 18-December 5, 2015
$21 Adults
$19 Students / Seniors (ages 65+)
$16 per ticket for Groups 10+
2 for $20 Preview (Wed, November 18)
2 for $30 Tuesdays (November 24 and December 1)
$10 Student Rush Ticket (15 min before curtain with ID, subject to availability)

Phone: 250-384-2142
Box Office at the Theatre: 805 Langham Court 12 noon to 4:00 pm Monday to Friday and 6:00 to 8:00 pm on performance days

As a special feature, after each performance (except matinees and opening night) the audience is invited to “Reflections”, a moderated discussion (20-30 minutes) of the issues presented by “Doubt, A Parable”.

Cast (in order of appearance)

Father Brendan Flynn Wayne Yercha
Sister Aloysius Beauvier Fran Patterson
Sister James Emma Hughes
Mrs. Muller Rosemary Jeffery


Director Don Keith
Producer Vinnie Chadwick
Stage Manager Kathy Macovichuk
Set Design Don Keith
Lighting Design Carol-Anne Moore
Sound Design Jason King
Costume Design Pearl Arden
Properties Maureen Colgan

Disclaimer: I was invited to attend the opening night of Doubt and graciously provided with complimentary tickets.

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