Play review: “Doubt”

| 02/10/2012

Arguably, one of Cayman’s best kept secrets is the Cayman National Cultural Foundation’s (CNCF) ongoing programme of music, art and theatre events, and the CNCF’s latest theatre production of John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” is by far one of the most enjoyable ones to date.  

Experienced and novice live theatre-goers alike will be blown away by the sophistication of both the story and performances.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it is set in a 1960’s Catholic school where Sister Aloysius begins to have doubts about the fun and popular Father Flynn, who seems to have become overly involved in the life of the school’s first black pupil.  Is she overreacting to the situation, or is there truth behind her suspicions?

Directed by veteran theatre director and designer, Henry Muttoo (who is also the Artistic Director of the CNCF), the story weaves the audience through a number of emotions almost seamlessly.  The suggestion of the equally opposing forces of doubt and certainty is presented within the first minute, which then continues to build, scene by scene, as we bear witness to a series of conversations pitting fact and perception against one another.  Muttoo’s decades long history in theatre shines in this interpretation with not only outstanding performances but a vibrant minimalist set.

The brilliance of the story truly lies in the characterizations because it is only through our belief in the performances that we are drawn into the story at such an emotionally deep level.  Muttoo’s casting couldn’t have been better, with Peter Kosa playing Father Flynn in an effortless portrayal of fun and fervour that is so whimsical and natural, one can’t help but like him.  Dark tension is then built against his brightness so ardently by Sister Aloysius, played by an ominous Marcia Muttoo, her rigidity not wavering for one moment, that we again cannot help but dislike her, despite the mounting deductions being made against Flynn. 

Their scene of final confrontation is perhaps one of the most gripping in the whole play.

Poor Sister James, played brilliantly by Rita Estevanovich, is caught in the middle with her innocent approach to life apparent in every tiny gesture and facial expression.  I particularly enjoyed her scene with Kosa where her gentleness is set against the darkness of the accusation and is confronted before us.  Juliet Garricks plays the determined Mrs Muller with exceptional grace and poignancy, throwing yet another wrench into the complex dynamics already at work in this story.  Though she only has one scene it is one of the most memorable in the play as she and Sister Aloysius politely mount their disdain for one another.

Although portraying an intense story line, the characters are also so unique that there are many instanceswhere the audience will find themselves laughing.  This was a welcome though unexpected relief and also added another layer of complexity to the unfolding drama.  Each character is portrayed so naturally the audience truly feels transported into this world.  It is as if the audience becomes a jury to a bizarre trial being played out before our eyes.  The passage of time occurs so swiftly across the two act, two hour performance (with intermission), it is yet another testament to the brilliance at work between director and actor.

The decision to present “Doubt” in the recently renovated Studio Theatre instead of the main stage at Harquail was, in my opinion, perfectly on point as the intimate nature of the space lends beautifully to the subtle nuances of character acting.  Although Muttoo’s use of the arched theatre seating is occasionally distracting when an actor’s back is to you, it also presents an interesting dynamic setting you into the stage as opposed to simply in front of it. 

I cannot express how much I enjoyed my experience of the CNCF production of “Doubt”.  The thought-provoking story explores subjects such as repression, freedom, Puritanism, modernity, hierarchy, equality, sexuality and celibacy all within the already controversial backdrop of the Catholic Church.  I strongly suggest bringing a group to watch the play and then later watching the film, which was not only directed by the playwright himself but also nominated for four Academy Awards.  There is no “doubt” that great discussions are to be had by all.

“Doubt” continues its run from 5 to 14 October, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 6pm in the Harquail Studio Theatre.  Tickets are $20 for adults $10 for children and available from Foster’s Food Fair, Funky Tang’s and the Harquail Theatre Box Office (949-5477). Group rates are also available.

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