Friday, November 4, 2022


Currently running at The Church of the Holy Trinity, nestled along the edges of the mammoth Eaton's Centre complex and surrounding monoliths for mall shopping, John Patrick Shanley's explosive script DOUBT is a timely reminder that everything is open to debate - with no certainty as to when and how any given debate may or may not end. 

Directed with a very effective stoic grace, only giving in to grey areas when this paradoxically spare and emotionally charged script allows - Stewart Arnott brings the characters to life with very measured and deliberate performances and sharply focused blocking that echos elegantly and frighteningly within the cavernous walls of this beautiful space. 

When Father Flynn stands in the huge carved wooden pulpit, the authority of a permanent 'set piece' speaks volumes, giving his simple words and stories a kind of power that an ordinary setting would be hard put to provide. Brian Bisson's Father, and the rest of the ensemble, deliver complex performances that never falter. Vocal tone is crafted impeccably, making its way into reserved concern and peaking by the end in outright emotional intensity and powerful sobbing. Bisson is especially skilled at delivering passionate dialogue and prolonged speeches with a mixture of sensitivity, personable comfort, and subtle tinges of discomfiting authority.

Using the parable as a delineating form that simultaneously simplifies and elaborates upon the narrative, the playwright has taken the skilful liberty of creating the stark, direct language of composure, conflict, and compromise, mixed with the uncomfortable presence of doubt. A kind of wary jaded approach surfaces as character's make their way through complex situations. And yet at the heart of the drama is the single word that gives the play its title and its dramatic urgency. Doubt reigns supreme, and even in moments of great change and muddled success on the part of a dominant character, doubt continues to stand in for a basic and prevailing human strategy. Infuriatingly so as issues range from homophobia to domestic violence, male domination in the church, and the fearful subservient lives enforced upon women employed by both glorified ritualistic and daily gods/Gods of dogma and distress.

Deborah Drakeford as Sister Aloysius brings the strongest portrayal of stoicism and great suffering to the scene, very gradually releasing layers of emotion she seems unable to fully reveal due to the power of the men overseeing her every move. As the younger novitiate, Emma Nelles' Sister James creates a very complex and vulnerable character moved by her own commitment to her vocation, yet torn between the seemingly benevolent power of Father Flynn and what appears to be the less flexible views of Sister Aloysius.

And yet nothing is as at seems on the surface in Doubt. Kim Nelson as Mrs. Muller, in a powerful smaller role, provides a kind of questioning and enduring position as she deals with the inner machinations of a church that can give her child some hope for the future - and yet the same environment both questions and potentially compromises the quality of the boys position, for what is framed as a relatively short period, within the church. 

John Patrick Shanley, in his preface to this Tony Award, Pulitzer Prize winning work (published 17 years ago) gives us nothing to soothe the searing  doubt that courses through the veins of the play. He only heightens them  as he provides a timely reminder of what the world increasingly sees as ongoing global moments of profound uncertainty concerning the future of so-called civilization - in every facet of daily life -

Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite - it is a passionate exercise. You may come out of my play uncertain. You may want to be sure. Look down on that feeling. We've got to learn to live with a full measure of uncertainty. There is no last word. That's the silence under the chatter of our times." *

The last word is doubt. 


running at the Church of the Holy Trinity until November 13th

* John Patrick Shanley, Brooklyn, New York, March 2005

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