“Doubt: A Parable”
Westport Country Playhouse
Westport Country Playhouse is currently presenting a knockout production of John Patrick Shanley’s Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Doubt: A Parable.” Featuring a stellar cast of four, this show is truly stunning and extremely well directed by David Kennedy. “Doubt” is set in 1964 and manages, to an extent, to embrace such topics as racism and homosexuality, though those are not the main elements of the play. What “Doubt” displays is how an idea can be generated and then slowly grow into a web of intrigue and suspicion. “Doubt” is the first play that Westport Country Playhouse has produced on its stage since the pandemic and it proves to be a fantastic show that is most highly recommended.
When the audience enters the theater, the curtain is already up and one can see the central set design, excellently created by Charlie Corcoran, of a Catholic school, with just the barest of elements, such as lit candles, onstage. In a conceit which could possibly distract from the play, there are also four dressing tables in the periphery of the stage, where the actors are seen coming on and getting costumed for the performance. This device is not really necessary, and doesn’t add much to the show, yet, crucially, it keeps from detracting from the central action and ultimate power of this play.
To give some background to the plot of “Doubt,” it concerns suspicions about Father Brendan Flynn (excellently portrayed by Eric Bryant) that he has had inappropriate relations with one of the students, including giving the student some wine. To make the situation even more controversial is that the student is the only black child in an otherwise all-white Catholic school. The suspicions are slowly introduced by Sister James, played by the lovely Kerstin Anderson, to her superior, Sister Aloysius Beauvier, who is magnificently embodied by the formidable Betsy Aidem. The show introduces this central scenario and slowly reveals how it grows and manifests its way through the action of the play.
I would hate to give anything more away about the story in “Doubt,” because this play is full of major surprises, as it grips the audience through a riveting ninety-minute running time. Suffice it is to say that the four actors in the show are uniformly fantastic. Having seen Eric Bryant give a powerful performance in a previous Westport Country Playhouse show, “The Invisible Hand,” the expertise of his work in “Doubt” is not surprising, but, in portraying Father Flynn, he executes the seemingly impossible feat of making his character both likable and more than a little bit frightening. Betsy Aidem is entirely Bryant’s equal, as Sister Aloysius, in their incendiary scenes together, but she keeps from making the mistake of making her character unsympathetic or less than reasonable.
The other two performers have less to do, but they both definitely make their mark in the show. As Sister James, Kerstin Anderson is seen as coming from a place of caring about her students and, although her concerns ultimately manifest into major problems and events, this actress is always touching and entirely human. In the smallest role in the play, Sharina Martin plays Mrs. Muller, the mother of the student in question, and, although she has but one scene, she is so good and makes such an indelible impression, that she nearly steals the show. Director David Kennedy has truly worked wonders with this cast and the results are amazing.
The telling of the story in “Doubt” is very simple and direct, but it packs a wallop. The suitable costumes for the characters have been expertly designed by Sarita Fellows and Carolina Ortiz Herrera’s wonderful lighting design helps shape the entire show. John Patrick Stanley has written quite a play in “Doubt,” full of potent incidents and events, and it is high praise to say that Westport Country Playhouse does complete justice to this work. This production of “Doubt” is definitely one show that will stay with you long after the play has ended.
“Doubt: A Parable” runs through November 21, 2021, at Westport Country Playhouse, in Westport, CT. For information and tickets, please visit www.westportplayhouse.org
Photo: Kerstin Anderson and Betsy Aidem
Photo by Carol Rosegg