“Doubt” Closes Gamm Season on High Note

By Kimberly Rau

“What do you do when you’re not sure?” That’s how Father Flynn opens “Doubt: A Parable,” a play about moral responsibility and the gray area in which most of us operate when determining our course of action. And indeed, this is a play with many gray areas.

It’s just after Vatican II. At St. Nicholas elementary school, Fr. Flynn is a beloved new priest that seeks to unite the Church and its people by making both the clergy and worship more accessible. Principal Sr. Aloysius believes the opposite: Those in power at the Church are, and should be, held to a higher standard and separateness from its parishioners and students. Sr. James is a young nun who is more inclined toward kinship with her students than tyranny. Caught in the middle is Donald Muller, the school’s first Black student, who finds himself shunned by his peers but taken under Fr. Flynn’s wing.

It’s this special attention that concerns Sr. Aloysius, who is already skeptical of Fr. Flynn. She’s had experience with a priest who had to be stopped from “interfering” with parish children. But in her prior diocese, she had a monsignor who was willing to believe a priest could be capable of such transgressions; here, she has no such ally. She turns to Sr. James, asking her to be vigilant for signs of wrongdoing. When Donald returns from a private meeting with Fr. Flynn smelling of altar wine, Sr. Aloysius’ crusade is set in motion.

Unfortunately, things that happen in the shadows are not always easily brought to light. Sr. James can hardly believe the charismatic Fr. Flynn would do something so heinous, and Fr. Flynn has a plausible excuse for the accusations against him. Even Donald’s mother isn’t willing to rock the boat over suspicions without evidence, and so, Sr. Aloysius must step outside her own morality to seek resolution.

Under the direction of Rachel Walshe, John Patrick Shanley’s story is just as strong as when it debuted 20 years ago. Phyllis Kay is a stern, but not entirely compassionless or humorless, Sr. Aloysius. Kay is an expert in dry humor, and the moments where she earns a laugh from the audience make the commanding nun just a little more relatable. Mary Mullane is Sr. James, who starts out timid and naïve but slowly finds her voice and strength as her mettle is tested over the course of the show’s 90 minutes. 

Benjamin Grills offers us a very human Fr. Flynn, someone who is clearly trying his best, though whether that’s to be the best possible shepherd to his flock, or to cover up his untoward past, is up to the audience’s interpretation. Clearly, Fr. Flynn has something to hide, but whether its his sexuality, a predilection for children, or something else, is never fully clear. It’s a difficult, multifaceted role, and Grills does well with it.

Finally, there’s Lynsey Ford as Mrs. Muller, a pragmatic woman who has seen enough of the world to know there’s no going against a “man in a robe” and coming out unscathed. When meeting with Sr. Aloysius, Ford offers a heart-wrenching portrayal of a woman desperate to do right by her son, while understanding there is very little to be done. It’s a powerful scene, and a beautiful performance from both actors.

In the end, “Doubt” will leave you with more questions than answers. Has Sr. Aloysius done the right thing? Was Fr. Flynn really the monster she identified him as? How blameless or complicit is Sr. James in what ultimately happens? Was anyone really concerned for Donald, or was he, as his mother suspects, just a catalyst for further action? Whatever you decide, this stunning season-closer will certainly give you plenty to discuss.

“Doubt” runs through June 2, 2024, at The Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at gammtheatre.org or by calling 401.723.4266.

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