You’ve got to have doubts about a production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt at the Centaur until March 29 that reduces a complex, engrossing 80-minute play to little more than a war between the sexes.
You also have to wonder why the theatre would stage Doubt when the Academy Award nominated movie version with Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman is still running at your local cineplex.
Although the 2005 Pulitzer Prize winning script operates on a number of levels, director Micheline Chevrier has reduced the play to a power struggle between an astringent Roman Catholic nun, Sister Aloysius (Brenda Robins) and a popular young Irish priest, Father Flynn (Alain Goulem). Sister Aloysius is out to crucify Flynn and all he represents, and Flynn may just have a few metaphorical nails in his pocket to help her do the job. We’re never quite certain.
Doubt is set in 1964, when the Roman Catholic church was torn before reformers and old school disciplinarians. Aloysius is certain that Flynn has interfered with a young, black altar boy and in her campaign to have the priest exposed, recruits a young, idealistic nun Sister James (Lina Roessler).
Robins is one twisted sister. Her performance is so strident, it upsets the delicate balance that has to be borne equally among the four characters if an audience is to sort out whom to believe and who is telling the truth. As written, the play is as much about sexual politics as it is about a suspected sexual deviant. In this production, Robins is vicious - a nun without an ounce of compassion or understanding. She spits out her fury when dealing with the secular world lurking beyond her school’s doors. This Sister Aloysius is simply a harridan in a habit.
Alain Goulem as Father Flynn sports a big smile and a broad physical presence. Even when he squirms under the weight of the accusations against him, you can’t help but want to root for him. Goulem’s Flynn is an infinitely likeable and sympathetic clergyman. He may - or may not have been - indiscreet in plying his young altar boy with wine - but its hard to believe he’s perverse.
Lina Roessler, as nervous Sister James is a frightened bird torn between the priest she wants to trust and her superior who demands unblinking obedience. Hers is a performance of such nervous energy that she seems ready to shatter.
Stealing the show as the altar boy’s mother is Lucina Davis, deeply grounded and deeply convincing as a parent with reasons of her own to avoid the question.
Costume and set designer, Pierre -Étienne Locas needs to do a bit more research into ecclesiastical garb. Roman Catholics of a certain age will have doubts about a play that allows a Roman Catholic priest to deliver a sermon wearing a maniple and stole without his chasuble. His spare set, essentially a black box framed by two religious statues, like the entire production is adequate, but leaves you wanting more.