Awkward performances distract from thought-provoking play

“Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley takes place in the Bronx, New York in 1964. The play focuses on the fictional St. Nicholas Catholic Church and school, and conflicts occurring between the conservative nun, Sister Aloysius, and the somewhat liberally-minded priest, Father Flynn.

The conflict begins when a younger, naive nun, Sister James, informs Aloysius of strange behavior from Donald Muller, the first African-American boy at the school, after his interactions with Flynn.

The play continuously works to build perceptions for the audience to decide what is true and what they have “doubt” of.

The production was staged in a very small scale, almost practicing for the new black box theatre that is under construction at UNA. The stage at Norton Auditorium was turned in to an intimate theatre, with the audience sitting on the stage with the actors.

The set’s design required no set changes, making the flow of scenes quick and smooth. The focus of the set was Sister Aloysius’ office, but also worked as a pulpit for the church scenes and included a small courtyard for the outdoor scenes.

The lighting created a simple, yet complementary reminder of the setting. Being on stage with the actors, street sounds from outside on Pine Street were quite loud, though they actually created a realistic complement to the New York setting.

Liza Montgomery’s portrayal of Sister Aloysius was perfectly stern. Montgomery explained that the director, Dr. David Ruebhausen, had instructed her that it is her character’s job to convince the audience of Father Flynn’s guilt. Her standout performance was the most engaging of the four, and took control of the scenes that she was part of.

Brittany James’ performance as Sister James left a longing for a more natural delivery of her lines. Her struggle with her strong southern accent created a distraction in a production that was supposed to be set in New York.

If this accent was an intentional directorial decision, it proved to be a distraction from many of the serious and pivotal points. Unfortunately, the accent was not subtle, and was not easily overlooked. James’ attempt at the character seemed to be genuine in spite of her accent struggle.

Overall, the production was full of intense and passionate moments. The highlight of the show is the final scene where Sister Aloysius breaks her stern demeanor and shows her vulnerability to Sister James.

Moments like this, among a few others, helped overshadow the struggles some of the actors faced in their interpretation of the text and made the production a thought-provoking rendition of Shanley’s Play.

Editor’s note: Devin Kennamer, who reviews theatre for The Flor-Ala, has seen more than 40 Broadway, touring and professional productions, and he was an attendee at the 2010 Tony Awards in New York City. He annually attends and participates in the Southeastern Theatre Conference. Kennamer has participated on stage and off in numerous productions and holds an Associate’s Degree in Theatre from Northeast Alabama Community College.