Ben Randle

THEATRE DIRECTOR

SF Examiner: 'Doubt' is "thought-provoking, heart-rending" and "intensely intimate"

SF Examiner: 'Doubt' is "thought-provoking, heart-rending" and "intensely intimate"

by Albert Goodwyn

The conflict of John Patrick Shanley's play Doubt, now at New Conservatory, is between certainty and doubt. This intensely intimate production starkly illuminates the themes of pederasty and guilt within the Roman Catholic Church. The severely economical staging in the black box Walker Theatre brings the erring priest and the vindictive nun right into the laps of the audience. The effect is thought-provoking, heart-rending and sometimes humorous.

Sister Aloysius (played with an almost vicious self-righteousness by Scarlett Hepworth) is the disciplinarian principal of a school for difficult boys. She has been looking for the chance to bring down the over friendly Father Flynn (Andrew Nance paying close attention to the nuances of a weak holy man), and she gets it with the help of a naïve young eighth-grade teacher Sister James. Roselyn Hallett, in the most consistently inhabited performance in the play, enacts her with a palpable sense of compassion.

Sr. Aloysius' overbearing strictness looms over the cleverly lit play even when she is offstage. Fr. Flynn's inner turmoil becomes more pathetic as the doubt of his guilt slowly changes to certainty. Sr. James presents an ideal of purity.

Shanley's writing deftly interweaves a number of very specific themes with ambiguous propositions and Ben Randle's direction highlights both sides with a highly developed sense of aesthetic sensibility.

Doubt, A Parable continues through February 28 at New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. Tickets ($22 to $40) are available online at www.nctcsf.org or by phone at 415.861.8972.