Friday, September 26, 2014

Have no doubts about Stoneham's Doubt

Photo: Mark S. Howard
This is just a quick note (from Venice - see masthead!) to urge you to catch Stoneham Theatre's current production of Doubt (which closes this weekend).  Director Caitlin Lowans' production starts a bit slow, I admit, but does eventually tighten the screws on John Patrick Shanley's taut little fable of sin and uncertainty in latter-day Catholicism.

Gabriel Kuttner plays the charismatic young priest eager to open the Church to the reforms of Vatican II - while Karen MacDonald is the old-school parish principal, Sister Aloysius, who suspects he is up to no good with the altar boys (with little evidence to back her claim other than her own experienced eye). Both Kuttner and MacDonald are dependable Boston stars, and both acquit themselves well in these demanding roles - although both also have made decisions (or their director did) that I have some issues with.  

Kuttner, I felt, lacked the extra ounce of charisma that can give Father Flynn's friendly smile a predatory gleam. Meanwhile MacDonald, although she avoided the sternness of Meryl Streep's failed turn in the movie, also eschewed (understandably enough) the robust good humor of the original Sister Aloysius, Cherry Jones. This inevitably puts the focus on an unspoken internal dynamic for the character - which is fair enough, but in the end isn't as interesting theatrically as her driven game of cat-and-mouse (in which the cat has far less power, really, than the mouse) with the cagey Father Flynn.

MacDonald knows how to sell a showdown, however, and the final conflict here is as coolly gripping as it should be. It helps that once cornered, Kuttner leaps to outraged, nearly violent attack; his Father Flynn has never dreamt that his opponent might cleverly turn the Church's famous sexism (which he has always depended on) against his own game.

Of course that sexism returns to his aid in the end - in fact you could argue that Sister Aloysius' victory over this pedophile is only Pyrrhic; Father Flynn lives to see another day, and no doubt more altar boys, at another parish. This is what gives Shanley's play - and its title - a deeper thematic sting; this story is far from over, a sad fact which this production quietly seems to note.

I should also mention the strong supporting cast at Stoneham - Miranda Craigwell is poised and gently compelling as the mother of Flynn's victim (although she could evince more of a stricken history herself), while Kathryn Myles caught my eye once again as the willfully innocent Sister James. Indeed, Myles is arguably stronger here than either her Broadway or Hollywood counterparts; during her conflicts with MacDonald, I often found that my doubts about this Doubt had suddenly disappeared.

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