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Photo: Joan Marcus Review
Revivals of acclaimed plays serve a variety of purposes to theatergoers: to see something they may have previously missed; to have the chance to re-visit a favorite piece of writing; to discover how well a play has “held up” since its previous production; and to judge how much of a role casting has played in the show’s success.

Scott Ellis’ much-anticipated revival of John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2004 work “Doubt: A Parable,” now at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s recently renamed Todd Haimes Theatre, checks off all the previous boxes, for better and worse. Most importantly, though, it proves the case – beyond any doubt – what a well-structured theatrical work Shanley crafted.

Writing of a world he intimately knew – a Bronx, working-class Catholic parish in 1964 – Shanley takes us behind the scenes of the church’s walls (the clever turntable set is by David Rockwell) where an unusual battle is beginning to brew between the school’s starchy, by-the-book principal, Sister Aloysius (a superb Amy Ryan) and the parish’s priest, Father Flynn (Liev Schreiber, charismatic yet problematic).

In a seemingly unplanned conversation, Aloysisus learns from the sweet natured and earnest young nun Sister James (a touching Zoe Kazan) that a boy in her class – the school’s only black student – came back from a private meeting with Flynn with alcohol on his breath and a troubled disposition.

For reasons never made completely clear by Shanley, Sister Aloysius instantly decides Flynn has abused the boy and ends up going to great lengths to try to prove her case. Indeed, she goes as far as violating rules that would seem sacrosanct to her, such as directly confronting Flynn (who is her superior and who could get her fired) in her office. Even when no direct evidence is presented and no confession is made, Aloysius soldiers on because, in her words, “I have certainty.”

In the show’s most riveting scene, Aloysisus calls a private meeting with the boy’s mother (Quincy Tyler Bernstein in an effective if surprisingly understated performance), who turns out to be the model of practicality. She tells Aloysius she’s unconcerned with what did or did not happen as long as her son graduates on time, which will allow him access to a better high school. Further, she also intimates that her son may be gay, which has caused his father to beat him, and that she is in favor of any positive male influence in his life.

Throughout the play, one wonders if Aloysius just has a grudge against Flynn. A war widow who turned to the church, she is a mostly strict believer in the tenets of Vatican 1, such as the use of fountain pens. Indeed, Ryan practically grits her teeth when Flynn pulls out a ballpoint pen during their meeting and later talks of making the church more friendly to the people. Moreover, Aloysius believes in ruling through fear and clearly resents the fact that Flynn, a relative newcomer to the parish, has an easy rapport with the students, the congregants, and even Sister James.

Further – and this point became clearest to me on this viewing of the play -- Aloysius bridles against the male domination of the church. We are never told exactly when her husband died (supposedly during World War II) and when she joined the church, but I suspect she may have been one of the many women who experienced independence and was gainfully employed in the mid-40s and then discarded when World War II was over.

Every pot has its boiling point and it’s possible her inability to throw Flynn out of the parish without male approval has resulted in the explosion of long-held resentments. (It can also mean that her famous final line “I have doubts” refers to her decision to join the church and nothing to do with Flynn’s guilt or innocence.)

Saving the bad news here for last, Schreiber proves to be somewhat miscast here. It’s not that he instantly seems guilty; in fact, I would say it’s at best a 50-50 bet that he abused the boy. The primary issue is that Schreiber seems way too tough, shrewd, even dangerous; I half-expected him to put a hit out on Sister Aloysius. Perhaps his portrayal (and his age) would have worked out better opposite the show’s original star Tyne Daly (who dropped out right as performances began).

But to be honest, I have doubts.

By Brian Scott Lipton

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Open/Close Dates
Opening 3/7/2024
Closing 4/21/2024

Theatre Info
Todd Haimes Theatre
227 W 42nd St
Neighborhood: West 40s
New York, NY 10036