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'Doubt: A Parable' review: The Dio’s riveting production is must-see theater

Courtesy of Michele Anliker Photography


Most people are probably familiar with John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 play “Doubt” as it was made famous by the Oscar nominated film adaptation that featured two powerhouse performances from Meryl Streep and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Nowadays, local theaters need to rely on big, well-known musicals to help sustain ticket sales for the season, but The Dio isn’t an ordinary theater, and they should be commended for taking a gamble on an established, but not entirely commercial drama that deals with heavy, contemplative themes of religion, abuse, and honesty. That director (and Dio co-founder) Steve DeBryune slotted it in a coveted and prime June slot after having to postpone another production is bold and, in my opinion, makes it arguably the must-see show of the season. It’s also one of a handful of productions I’ve seen where patrons were sticking around at their tables afterwards engaging in thoughtful discussion on the show’s ambiguous ending. The power of live theater!


“Doubt” is an excellent show that, even though it’s set in the Bronx circa 1960, still feels as timely and relevant today. Not only because of the headlines surrounding Catholic priests generational abuse of young children, but in the post #MeToo era, there’s an added layer here considering the premise of the show revolves around a woman making several accusations towards her superior, who, of course, is a man in power. 


That man is Father Flynn (Bret Beaudry – in a towering performance), who has been put on the radar of school principal, Sister Aloysius (Amy Schumacher – effortlessly compelling), after a 12-year-old boy (and new student) Donald Muller had the smell of alter wine on his breath. The stubborn and strict Sister Aloysius suspects foul play, but understands the gender dynamics at play. Father Flynn could end her career with a snap of his fingers, which requires her to be carefully calculated with how she gathers the facts and presents her arguments. But mainly, it boils down to instinct and circumstances and the intellect of her confidant and pupil Sister James (Ally Szymanski – terrific) who provides a firsthand account of what she witnessed or thought she did.


Shanley’s script, which is masterfully presented without an intermission so as to not halt the show’s gripping momentum, is extremely well balanced in this tug-of-war between the Sister and Father as they both understand what’s at stake regarding their reputation. It’s a metaphorical slug fest that suits The Dio’s intimate setting and DeBruyne manages to pull plenty of emotions from this quartet of performers who all excel in their respective roles.

Again, Beaudry holds his ground playing a character who is fielding major accusations, but also has to, in a way, convince the audience to be on his side of the equation (whether right or wrong). He’s outstanding alongside his adversary, the stern Sister Aloysius who is brought to life by Dio regular Amy Schumacher in a performance, equal to Beaudry, that is worthy of award consideration. Likewise for Ally Szymanski playing the innocent bystander Sister James, a character whose passion lies with her students and someone who often avoids conflict because she wants to see the good in everyone. It’s a solid, sturdy performance for the actress in her Dio debut. Rounding out the cast is the amazing Jacqui Blue playing the mother of Donald Miller who is summoned to the principal’s office in a tense and harrowing ten-minute sequence that left the room speechless. Which speaks to Blue’s impeccable stage presence that she only has one scene and yet, it’s one that lingers with you long after the final bows.


As does the question of whether or not Father Flynn is a victim or charismatic manipulator? Shanley isn’t interested in providing any sense of closure to that conundrum, nor was I clamoring for the answer after the show. Instead, I was left to ponder what was sitting in front of me and deducing the facts. Along the way, conflicted thoughts flowed through my subconscious: If I take the side of Father Flynn, what’s to say about the countless women who have come forth with credible intel about men only to be shown the door? But then again, what is the evidence in front of me? Aren’t we supposed to be innocent until proven guilty? Did the sister make her case? Every piece of dialogue and character decision is scrutinized and I’m sure the actors, especially Beaudry, enjoy toying with the audience's perception, be it a vocal inflection, eyebrow roll, or facial move, as to add another layer to our uncertainty. 


Scenic, lighting, and sound by Matt Tomich is on point as always and has a certain gothic-like aesthetic to it, especially with the giant cross hovering above the stage while Dio mainstay Normal Polk once again delivers the costuming goods. And, of course, one can’t talk about The Dio without mentioning the delicious chicken dinner served prior to the show, though pay special attention to the “Sinful Brownies” that are given right before curtain. Like the show, they are incredibly addicting.


In the end, don’t wait to see this one-of-a-kind and thought-provoking piece, because it’s not done all that often and who knows when the opportunity will present itself. You may have doubts about what actually happened within the context of the show, but I promise you won’t be disappointed. 


DOUBT continues through July 21st at The Dio. Tickets, which include a three-course dinner and non-alcoholic beverage, can be purchased here.


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