Doubt, A Parable will bring its audiences back to the 1960s – when a modernization of the Catholic Church was causing schisms among its members.
That matter gets eclipsed by a sordid issue that continues to plague the organization today. The play is being produced by the team at Many Hats Theatre Company.
It’s set around a church school in the Bronx suburb of New York City, where an older, conservative principal, Sister Aloysius, is at odds with a younger, charismatic priest, Father Flinn, who takes a more liberal approach in his religious teachings.
Sister Aloysius makes a grave accusation against Father Flinn, and the audience is left to depict the truth out of hearsay. It’s possible that the accusation was made honestly, but there is suspicion that she’s lying to blackball his name.
“It’s like a cat and mouse game,” said producer Ed Schneider. “You leave the theatre and you have doubt.”
However, the actors playing the role are sure about who did it.
“Yes he did, he did,” said Jean Padwick, who plays Sister Aloysius. “I’m so concerned about the wellbeing of these children in my school, even though I may be bitter and hard and unpleasant to be around, I want them to be safe. This man, with his charm, and his witt, his warmth, and he’s cute as a button and has a ball point pen – comes into my school and cozies up to the only black child in the school, and this is the 1960s.”
Padwick’s character embodies the stereotypical strictness of a Catholic nun; “the guilt, you’re going to go to hell if you sin, if you don’t pay your penance,” explained Rob McCaffery, the actor who plays Father Flinn.
“As wrongheaded as Sister Aloysius may be, she’s convinced that this man is guilty,” Padwick said. “And he equally knows he is not.”
As the characters delve deeper into the accusation, subsequent explanations only muddy the truth further.
“It’s multi-layered,” McCaffery said. “Many of the scenes serve to cast more doubt.”
“Even though the answers don’t become clear, all the lines just fit together so well, the language is just so gorgeous,” said Schneider.
Doubt, A Parable was originally performed on Broadway, and was written by John Patrick Shanley. Upon conclusion of the play, Schneider said Broadway audiences were almost equally divided upon what they believe. But there was a large variation among mothers with children under 40 — 98 per cent of that demographic believed the accusation made by Sister Aloysius.
“You can’t leave this play without talking about it,” said Schneider, adding that perspectives often change after discussions with other audience members.
“It will make your feelings shift back and forth.”
To help viewers make sense of such an abhorrent loose end, the unanswerable will be discussed during the talk-back night after the showing on Sept. 17, which all audience members are invited to join.
The showings take place at the Cannery Stage, starting Sept. 10 and running until Oct. 3. Shows take place each week on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m., and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. at the Cannery Trade Centre. Tickets cost $22 and $19 at the Wine Country Visitor’s Centre, and can be reserve by phone at 250-276-2170.
Schneider said Doubt, A Parable has been on his mind since he first launched Many Hats in 2007.
“Because this is such a beautifully crafted play and it’s so topical with the Catholic still struggling with this issue, I’ve just always thought it was fabulous.”