RTC’s Doubt A Parable Casts No Doubt On What Makes Art Good

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This past Tuesday, The Rockaway Times had the privilege to get a sneak peak of the Rockaway Theatre Company’s (RTC) latest production, “Doubt A Parable.” No spoiler alert here, as the ending of the play will certainly leave you in doubt, but as aptly stated by the production’s co-director, David Risley, “Good theater promotes discussion, and that’s what great art is about.” And folks, this play will definitely have you talking, as if trying to dissect Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, “Last Supper,” asking the question—What takes precedence—fact or emotion? The curtain on RTC’s thought-proving production goes up this Friday, May 31, and there’s no doubt about it—it’s not one to miss.

The Pulitzer-winning dramaplay, Doubt A Parable, written by Bronx-born John Patrick Shanley (which was even later adapted into a movie, starring academy-winning actors, Meryl Streep (Sister Aloysius) and Viola Davis (Mrs. Muller), is set at a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964. The historical backdrop is that the story begins at a time of transition when Americans were reeling from the assassination of JFK, President Lyndon B. Johnson began his push to escalate the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Act was signed, and the battle was waging in the Catholic Church in the midst of Vatican II.

The plot follows Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the head of St. Nicholas Catholic School, who is responsible for Sister James and responsible to Father Brendan Flynn. Based upon a few circumstantial details and a lot of determined intuition, the ultra-stern nun, Sister Aloysius Beauvier, believes that Father Flynn, has been molesting a 12-year-old boy named Donald Muller, the school's only African-American student. Sister Aloysius recruits a young, naive nun, Sister James, to assist her in monitoring the suspicious yet charismatic Father Flynn. She also addresses her concerns to Donald's mother, who surprisingly is not horrified or even shocked by the allegations. Mrs. Muller is more concerned about her son getting into high school and avoiding a beating from his dad, which she admits is a result of her son’s questionable sexual inclinations. The play concludes with a one-on-one confrontation between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn as she attempts to call faith, patriarchy, wisdom, religious order and truth into question.

However, the doubt is that this is not an open and shut case, and the RTC’s production will leave you riveted, determined to unravel the truth, which you may not—or maybe will? In fact, Father Flynn (played by Frank Caiati), is a more sympathetic character than Sister Aloysius (Susan Corning), the righteous nun who is certain that he represents a danger to the boys at the junior high school she rules with an iron fist. Unlike Cardinal Law, Sister Aloysius is a hands-on administrator who keeps a sharp eye on her teachers like Sister James (Ashley Ann Jones), and students. If you attended Catholic school, you will remember iron-fist nuns like Sister Aloysius, and the ever-enthusiastic Sister James, who just loves her students and vows to the Church.

Billyn Tarplain brings great dignity and a gritty emotion to Mrs. Muller's painful viewpoint, and Jones as Sister James is easily the play's most likeable character as her innocence is so endearing and refreshing. However, it's the yin-yang personas of Caiati as Father Flynn and Corning as Sister Aloysius, who electrify the stage, and make you want to shake them, demanding their true agenda and of course, the truth.

Corning as Sister Aloysius may come off as a termagant, but her clumsy comedic persona will woo you. Yes, she hates that they want to perform, “Frosty the Snow Man,” at the Christmas pageant and frowns upon Father Flynn’s greed for three lumps of sugar in his tea, but this is a woman who was previously married (her husband died in the war), and is fascinated by a “tiny” wired radio set confiscated by a child in the school.

Caiati, as the nerdy, assiduous, yet fascinatingly handsome Father Flynn, will readily have you loving and hating him simultaneously. His diction, intonations and overall, “innocence,” will leave you in doubt, questioning Sister Aloysius’ agenda to destroy him—yet pondering whether this is a devout man of the cloth being tossed to the wind due to Sister Aloysius’ fear of the future, but still has a lust to experience it? That’s for you to decide.

For co-directors, David Risley and Jodee Timpone, getting this play to the RTC is beyond an accomplishment. “It took us 10 years to get the rights to produce this play here, and finally, here we are! Our cast may be just four actors, who are all beyond gifted and powerful in their art of performing, but we also have a crew of nine people who tirelessly work to keep the set moving so magically. A lot of creativity and muscle went into producing this play.

“The driving message of Doubt is to be pushed out of complacency, you have to be pushed into doubt. This play has no bells and whistles, it’s about the words and acting, and we really worked hard, and are proud of what our cast and crew has accomplished,” Risley and Timpone shared.

As Doubt’s playwright, John Patrick Stanley stated in the preface of his play, “You may want to come out of my play uncertain. You may want to be sure. Look down on that feeling. We’ve got to learn to live with a full measure of uncertainty. There is no last word. That’s the silence under the chatter of our time.”

RTC’s Doubt A Parable show dates are May 31, June 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9 at the T4 Post Theatre Building. For more info and tickets, visit: www.rockawaytheatrecompany.org.

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