Finally, some more highbrow! This weekend brought us the delightful treat of comp tickets to see Doubt, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for best drama in 2005.

The script, by Bronx native John Patrick Shanley, is tense and humorous in equal parts. The action centers on a Catholic school in the Bronx during the mid-1960s, in which the principal, Sister Aloysius (Eileen Atkins) sets out to remove a teacher, Father Flynn (Ron Eldard), whom she suspects of molesting the school’s first and only black student. Caught between these two is another young teacher, Sister James (Jena Malone), who can’t reconcile her loyalty toward Sr. Aloysius with her instinctive trust and admiration for Father Flynn. This 90-minute drama addresses a lot of complex issues–racial tension, gender equality, and religious-secular conflict–and manages to be neutral yet thought-provoking.

Atkins does an amazing job with the complex character of Sr. Aloysius; the nun is fiercely dedicated to the traditions and rituals of the Catholic church and is deeply suspicious of anything that might threaten the old order (i.e., the young Father Flynn), yet she chafes against the male-dominated hierarchy. Atkins subtlely portrays this inner conflict as the character’s psyche slowly unravels over the course of her baseless suspicions against the priest. Eldard’s Flynn is less nuanced, but he engages the audience in his frustration as he realizes there is no way to clear his name with his colleagues at the school and parish. Poor Jena Malone, unfortunately, is terribly miscast as the guileless Sister James. I like her film work and was rooting for her to succeed here, but her pale face, weak voice, and restrained body language are ill-suited for the stage and no match for her more seasoned costars, and she was unable to develop her character. Still, the production was excellent overall and, despite its being set in 1964, persistently examines many questions that still trouble us today.

Advertisements