Goshen Playhouse, Goshen: This is the perfect time to travel up Routes 8 and 4 to visit the animal reserve and then treat yourself to an outstanding 90 minute theater production in Goshen’s Old Town Hall. The scenery is exquisite and it really isn’t more than an hour away – certainly closer than New York and without the traffic or parking.
It wasn’t so long ago that the public was bombarded with headlines accusing some small town priest or other of being a pedophile. This gave playwright John Patrick Shanley the impetus for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Doubt: A Parable.” Shanley, who attended Catholic schools had plenty of experience with the way parochial schools were run in 1964, when he sets his play in motion. He understands the patriarchal reign of the church and a nun’s rigid approach to education. If a parable is a story with a moral lesson, then Shanley’s parable is one very questionable lesson indeed. It’s all about doubt.
So tightly written is this play that in a mere 90 minutes, the playwright manages to address everything from male privilege, sexism, homosexuality and racism without skipping a beat and without hitting you over the head with a lesson. Instead his carefully sculpted characters bring all the issues to the forefront.
Father Flynn is a nice guy, but is he too nice to the altar boys, especially one shy black boy? That’s what Sister Aloysius suspects when she invites the new elementary school teacher Sister James to her office and then the boy’s mother Mrs. Muller. None of them is sure of anything. There’s no evidence of sexual abuse or misconduct, but they all have their doubts and when the curtain closes so will the audience.
That’s because the Goshen Players have a cast that plays so well, you’ll want to cross yourself when Father Flynn takes to the pulpit and you’ll cringe when Sister Aloysius reveals her dark side as she instructs the new nun to be firm not friendly.
Robert Kwalick is immediately confident and convincing as he delivers powerful sermons as Father Flynn. He demonstrates a special talent as he manages to evade accusatory questions as naturally as thunder rolling across a menacing sky and leaving no doubt as to the power of his male rank in the church. Kwalick is in control and the boss.
It doesn’t take long for the formidable Aloysius played by Lea Dmytryck to knock Flynn down a few pegs. Lea Dmytryck’s interpretation of the protagonist personifies what it means to be judgmental, hard-hearted and above all else self-righteous. This incredibly gifted actress enunciates and projects with such clarity that you will not miss a single word she speaks. But be forewarned, Dmytryck also speaks with her piercing eyes, her pinched lips, her straight and stiff posture; so even if she has no dialogue, one hears her inner thoughts loud and clear. It is hard to imagine anyone else in the community theater circuit ever topping her performance.
Steavie Reed as Sister James is the sweet, caring, and innocent new teacher. Aloysius teaches Sister James a thing a two from her personal and all-knowing book on fear tactics as an approach to learning. Reed communicates sensitivity with an unexpected run-away smile released prettily and softly. She beautifully augments the cruel streak in Aloysius. Her performance is genuine.
Loretta Fedrick as Mrs. Muller, mother of the young black boy, is only in one scene. Yet she conveys enough angst to demonstrate that she wants no part of Aloysius’ claims against the priest. She is a mother who wants to protect her son.
Overall, one has to recognize how quickly a nasty suggestion and the planting of a small seed of thought or well planted word can germinate and grow into a full-grown garden of undesirable weeds. Did the priest abuse the boy? Well, there is some doubt.
What is undeniable is that Colleen M. Renzullo who directed the production brought out the best in the actors and the play. Always true to the script, she nonetheless made this 2004 play new and pertinent again. Also undeniable is that the set is one of the most attractive sets to appear on the Goshen stage. It enlarges the stage by enhancing its depth and reaching outward on the side of the proscenium. Wes Baldwin’s light design created just the right mood for the stage action. Overall, this is an outstanding production.
Box office: 860-491-9988
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]