Debuting in 2004, on the heels of the Catholic-priest sex-abuse scandal, Doubt, A Parable mines the dark recesses of the religious hierarchy. Eschewing a contemporary setting, John Patrick Shanley's drama takes place in 1964 New York, a choice that imbues the events with an added level of social unease. The story is devastating in its simplicity: A senior nun in a Catholic school becomes convinced that the unconventional priest has taken an unhealthy interest in a young African-American student. What follows is a meditation on the meaning of conviction, and all the messy experiences that go with it.
Under Art DeConciliis' deft direction, the four-person cast of this Little Lake Theatre production is universally strong. As Father Flynn, the priest under fire, Don DiGiulio oscillates between empathetic mentor and mercenary leader, a man whose capricious nature might belie a deeper malevolence. Lynne Franks makes accuser Sister Aloysius Beauvier a formidable presence, yet instills her with a hidden well of pain and insecurity. Likewise, Laura Barletta balances the nuances of Sister James, portraying the young nun with equal strokes of impressionable naiveté and discontented wisdom.
And in her debut role, Lauren Kelley is a revelation. With only one scene as Mrs. Muller, the mother of the possible victim, Kelley displays a kaleidoscope of emotions, each sentiment more raw and heartbreaking than the last. Her plight is at the intersection of race, gender and religion, and without Mrs. Muller as the play's intricate moral compass, the entire production would lose its thematic resonance. While this is Kelley's first time on stage, hopefully it will be far from her last.
TJ Firneno's scenic design projects a lonely and austere ambiance that dovetails perfectly with the premise of the play. As with all theater in the round, there are points when one actor blocks the view of another, but DeConciliis ensures that these moments are short-lived and never detract from the story.
With an unsettling and ambiguous resolution, Doubt doesn't allow for easy answers. But in an uncertain world, a play that deals with the complexity of human nature couldn't end any other way.