Shadow of a Doubt
- By gentleguide
- On Fri 20 Apr 2018
Ankeny Community Theatre presents Doubt – a Parable as part of their Studio Series from April 26 through 29. Set in a Catholic School in 1964, it concerns the possible actions of Father Flynn (played by Brad Church). Flynn is the priest in charge of the school… and some are concerned about his behavior towards one of his students. It becomes not just a battle for one student or one career. It’s about how all of us have to decide how we put our faith in others, and in ourselves.
Young Sister James (Alison Buechler) is concerned about one of her students, and the possible relationship he has developed with Father Flynn. After an uncertain conversation with Flynn, she brings her qualms to the more experienced Sister Aloysius (Preshia Paulding), who becomes dedicated to protecting the child… even when no proof exists that there is any actual threat. A very careful dance ensues, balancing motives, actions, perceptions, and deciding how far we go to protect our ideas of what is right.
Director Thatcher Williams is hopeful that Doubt will create conversations in his audience, much as it has already created introspection in his cast. “I remind actors that it is a director’s job not to create their performance, but to creatively edit their performance so that all characters can tell their stories. My goal is to always showcase the actors’ talents in storytelling and bringing the audience into their world.”
A Point of View
In the case of Doubt, there are only four characters. But each of them is vitally important to tell the story, and even though uncertainty is a large part of the story, the actors still have to have possession of their own points of view, to bring them alive for the audience.
Paulding, as Sister Aloysius, is well aware of the position her character is placed in. “I think the driving force for Sister Aloysius in this 1960’s play is, as with most people defending a personal conviction or cause, she truly believes she is doing good. The play opens with a sermon presented by Father Flynn about doubt. She hears it. Based upon a referenced past experience at a different school pertaining to ‘another priest that had to be stopped’, to her (male) priests in general are suspect. This sermon on doubt for her mind is like adding fuel to an already burning flame.”
“I believe she believes she is doing good by her maintaining an immovable conviction and strength. My observation and conviction for the character is that, because in the past her hands were tied when abuse occurred at another school, she is even MORE determined not to see it happen on her watch. She is protective, controlling, and in charge.”
“But to her credit, in her mind, she takes the role of a ‘Mother’ (I mean it figuratively and literally) very seriously. She’s a tough parent. For reasons all her own, she mothers students in a militant way, believing that this ultimately makes the children better equipped for the world outside the protection of church school doors.”
A Point in Time
The arguments and concerns of the characters are vital and real, but take on an even more interesting sheen when one realizes exactly when and where Doubt takes place. Director Williams gives us an enlightening background on what that really means to the story and the characters.
“Doubt needs to be set in 1964 in a Catholic School. Though a similar play could be done in a similar setting – here is the importance of the Church in 1964 as a center point in the play. October 1964 puts us a little more than halfway into the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (or ‘Vatican II’) as the Church is redefining itself and its role in the modern world. The Church is in doubt of how it needs to interact with the families of modern society – does it remain more traditional or does it take on a more personal approach? Sister Aloysius would be an advocate for the first, while Father Flynn is for the second.”
Paulding picks up on this theme. “Father Flynn being new and unusually laid back and having a more warm and friendly manner of relating and teaching the boy students is foreign to her. Father Flynn’s easy-going manner combined with a want to change things up within the Church to include a more secular mindset is threatening to her. That combination makes Father Flynn highly suspect.”
“I believe both Father Flynn and Sister A want what is best for the children; they just see a different way to bring a positive end result about. The difference intensifies the conflict between them. Her motives seem as impure as what she believes are Father Flynn’s intentions, in regards to befriending a single student desperately needing a friend. Right or wrong, putting doubt aside during the course of her suspicions and maintaining conviction keeps her driven to do what she believes is ultimately best.”
“In my thinking (supported by director Thatcher Williams as well), this play doesn’t have a true antagonist. Sister A, of course, is the closest thing. But her underlying motives are based on wanting to protect. To see it through, she is a vigilant warrior, and that makes her appear uncompassionate and cold.”
A Point of Decision
As if all this isn’t enough, there’s still another historical angle to be aware of in Doubt. “We are also just a few months after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in July,” Williams reminds us. “There is Doubt in the African American community in the United States if this will actually create change in America or if it will just be more lip-service. The Race Riots of Harlem, Rochester, Jersey City, Elizabeth, and Philadelphia in July and August of 1964 highlight the uncertainty about the lives of African Americans, particularly the lives of young black men such as student Donald Muller - who is the child at the focus of Sister Aloysius’ investigation into what she is certain are the indiscretions of Father Flynn.”
“We hear his life at home from his mother, Mrs. Muller (Andrea K. Haynes, Cloris Award winner last year in The Amen Corner) during her discussion with Sister Aloysius on what may or may not have happened, and how just the hint of impropriety may directly terminate any chance of Donald Muller succeeding in life or even living to adulthood.”
“Young Sister James sits in the middle of this tug-of-war for the soul and humanity of the Church, as well as the life of Donald Muller. She is our eyes and our partner into this world. She comes in with an innocence and filled with wonder... and we see the effect Doubt has on her and on us as the lights fade at the end of the play.”
And ultimately, we all need to examine ourselves, to determine that effect in our own lives. How do our beliefs affect our actions, and how strongly do we cling to them for security instead of truth? What effect do the choices you’re given have on you and your emotions? What would you do in someone else’s shoes, when confronted with uncertainty and needing to do what you thought was necessary?
Theatre, at its best, allows both actors and the audience to put ourselves in someone else’s place, to examine the world through their eyes. That’s why theatre, for all ages, is so important. Support your local theatres, support arts funding in schools, and challenge yourselves every day to learn about the struggles of others. Through theatre, we can help everyone understand what those outside our lives go through. Of that, there can be no Doubt.
Doubt - a Parable is presented by Ankeny Community Theatre next weekend, April 26-29, located at 1932 SW 3rd Street in Ankeny. Tickets are available through the ACT website.