Monday, September 24, 2012

No Doubt About It: Park Square Theatre's "Doubt: A Parable" combines strong cast tight writing to create one taut, cohesive whole

You know how sometimes you sit in a restaurant, take one look at a menu, and one whiff from the kitchen, and know you’re in for a truly sublime meal?

Doubt, the newest production at Park Square Theatre, is a lot like that. One look at the set and cast, and I knew I was in for a great show -– and I wasn’t disappointed.
Made into a film with a stellar cast (including Ms. Meryl Streep), Doubt is one of those few scripts with such excellent, tight writing that are impossible to bungle.
It follows the story of St. Nicholas school in the Bronx in 1964, when tensions in the Catholic church and the country were reaching a fever pitch. The school is torn between its fearsome principal, Sister Aloysius Beauvier, and its kind, progressive parish priest, Father Flynn. Aloysius becomes convinced that Flynn is sexually abusing the school’s only black student, Donald Muller. Her conviction of Father Flynn’s guilt causes her to wreak havoc on the stability and mental health of her staff, students and parishioners, and the show ends with everyone still left in doubt.
Linda Kelsey (featured in our March issue) is a delight to watch as scratchier-than-pumice Sister Aloysius. Kelsey flaps about the stage like a malevolent crow, hissing all who come her way into submissive puddles of fear or panic, and it’s a deliciously dark performance.
Regina Marie Williams, as Mrs. Muller, proves once again that she is the Viola Davis of Minneapolis stage. Regardless of the size of her roles, the era or the country they are set in, or any other determining factor, Williams steals every scene she performs. Doubt is no exception; her one moment on stage, as she reveals her son’s harsh home life and pleads Aloysius to drop her crusade, is emotionally fraught and truly riveting.
David Mann provides a strong Father Flynn. He clearly articulates Flynn’s imperfect but kind character, and it’s hard to watch his downward spiral.
Anna Sundberg makes an equally convincing Sister James, whose lovely, innocent spirit is no match for the force that is Aloysius. Her broken innocence, like flowers after a thunderstorm, is scattered throughout the show like so many shredded petals on soggy soil. It’s a true growth performance, and it’s exactly right.
Great staging mechanisms – a compact, yet lush set, focused and nuanced lighting, and spot-on costumes – all work together in this production to elevate it from simply a well-written show to a dynamic performance. All the elements of Doubt work together to form one taut, cohesive whole, and I am hard-pressed to think of another show this year that has been so unified.
Doubt is also mercifully brief, once again proving that in most cases longer is not only not better, but not even necessary. With a 90-minute run time and no intermission, Doubtcontains nothing unnecessary or overdrawn.
Doubt is a wonderful show, and Park Square’s production is exemplary. It’s a definite highlight of the 2012 season, perhaps the best production put forward this year. Check it out before it closes on May 13.
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