REVIEW: ‘Doubt: A Parable’ at Langhorne Players in Newtown

By John Dwyer

In the preface to the play, John Patrick Shanley writes: “It is doubt (so often experienced initially as weakness) that changes things. The beginning of change is the moment of doubt. It is that crucial moment when we renew our humanity or become a lie.”

The Langhorne Players take on one of the best plays of the 21st century. Almost 20 years into the century, “Doubt” sheds light on the question of what is truth.

The plot centers around Father Flynn, a priest in 1964 at St Nicholas parish in the Bronx. He is being accused by the principal of the Catholic School, Sister Aloysius, of inappropriate sexual behavior with the only black student at the middle school. The play is disturbing. The backdrop is the current topic of priests and pedophilia. But the story is bigger than that. What disturbs the audience is how uncertain we are as to whether Father Brendan Flynn did it or not. If he didn’t do it, he is not just a good priest, but a great one, who is truly kind and caring. And, if he did do it, he is a monster.

We are disturbed because, in spite of doubts, a decision must be made. And the show puts the audience at a crossroads. It  addresses gossip, truthfulness, faith, extremism, lack of compromise and the determination to do the right thing no matter what, at any cost.

If you are uncompromising, unkind, hard headed or hard hearted, can being right become wrong?

This show, like “The Children’s Hour” currently at Town and Country Players, examines how easy it is for people to believe the worst when there is an accusation made. But instead of a manipulating child being the accuser for all the wrong reasons, in “Doubt: A Parable,” the accuser is a nun who makes the accusation in good faith and feels she is doing the necessary thing for the good of the child. She believes herself to be righteous. She is doing what God would have her do — or so she thinks.

In our current political climate, it is easy to extrapolate the theme of this play and project it onto the hot rhetoric that is seen and heard from opposing political candidates currently or, for that matter, the recent Supreme Court nomination. And again, the question is “who is telling the truth?” This play could not come to us at a more opportune time.

Daniel Gleason as Father Flynn gives a remarkable, nuanced performance. The audience is challenged to look at his deeds, his words and body language and come up with a verdict. Does evil come with a smile or is he a good man? Gleason is someone to take note of. By the strength of this performance, I would be prone to recommend any production in which he has a role.

Laurie Hardy is his steely foil, Sister Aloysius. There is little theater out there that is compelling as the one-on-one scenes between the father and the sister. It is riveting — the writing requires actors who are up to the task on delivering their side of the arguments both emotionally and intellectually. Gleason and Hardy have excelled in meeting that challenge.

In other roles, Charlotte Kirby brings a sweet innocence to the role of the young nun, Sister James. And in one of the most heart wrenching scenes written, Nina Law is astounding as Mrs. Muller, the mother of the child who may have been molested. It takes a lot to put an old nun on the defensive, but in the scene between Mrs. Muller and Sr. Aloysius, that is exactly what happens. Kudos to Law.

A small critique of the beginning expository moments between Sr. Aloysius and Sr. James. Much of this dialogue is regular talk to be thrown away as one does in casual conversation. It also should be played more between the characters and, not purposefully, out front to the audience. This is not a big deal, but the honesty of conversation is that it exists between two people and, if the focus goes off the other, it usually is not focused straight ahead but at another task. Especially in this play, you don’t want to seem to be playing to the audience.

“Doubt” is one of the most important plays of the last 20 years. It should be seen by everyone just for that reason. Its themes are current, and there is no better show out there to inspire an after-show discussion at the local bar. Shanley, the Langhorne Players (under the fine direction of Judi Parrish) and a hard-working cast have done their job. I highly recommend “Doubt: A Parable.” In a world of knee-jerk reaction, it gives you pause and makes you think. And that is refreshing. I will buy you a drink when I see you at the bar, and we’ll talk.

“Doubt: A Parable” will continue thru Oct. 27 at Spring Garden Mill/Langhorne Players Theater, 1440 Richboro Road, in Newtown. Tickets are available online.

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