TCTC's Doubt is nothing less than Opportunity to reenter the Present
When Playwright John Patrick Stanley wrote Doubt - A Parable in 2004 the Catholic church was in turmoil and uncertainty as revelation after revelation of sexual abuse showed an institutional crisis of criminal immorality. Stanley set his Pulitzer prize and Tony award winning play in 1964 when not just him but "the whole world seemed to be going through some kind of vast puberty". And now, in 2021 when Twin City Theatre Company brings it forth as the first Champaign County theatre company production since the Spring of 2020, we are all wondering if it is safe to go to school, to go shopping, to see friends, to shake hands, and - yes - to go to the theatre.
In Stanley's preface to his masterpiece he states that Doubt is "nothing less than an opportunity to reenter the present" and that is what TCTC invites us to do in their partnership with the intimate 75 seat confines of the Monticello Theatre Association's theatre. And getting a program, a theatre seat and having a show come to life in person in front of you feels exactly like that - reentering the present.
Impeccably directed by area newcomer and recent UIUC graduate Alexis Webb (the new Youth Theatre Director for the Champaign Park District), the star-studded four person cast brings fire, emotion, heartbreak and passion to the tight one-act, 75 minute show. TCTC veteran and local stage legend, Diane Pritchard was born to play Sr. Aloysius, the pitbull steadfast ruler-to-the-knuckles nun whose philosophy is "a dog who bites is a dog who bites" and who believes that certainty is required to live and to serve. Playing against her in various ways are all of the three others. Casey Long's Father Flynn opened the show with a monologue about doubt and a parable to a ship sailing at sea without the constellations after 20 cloud-filled days - what is truth, what is faith, where do lines blur? I have not seen Long before, but he captured the pain, passion and power of Father Flynn as well as any actor I could imagine - we want to believe him, but can we? Flynn and Aloysius have furious battles in which they both shine their brightest, but Pritchard brings out the best in everyone she shares the stage with.
That is true with Misty Martin who crushed the role of Sr. James, an eighth grade teacher whose innocence, hopefulness and faith shatters before our eyes. When she said "doubt and suspicion make me less close to God", it kinda broke me. Martin conveys a pain in her crisis that I hope the audience is able to see in her eyes, but may be limited to those on far audience right because of her nun's habit. I hope that both Martin and Pritchard cheat a bit more or pull their habits back so that the audience can fully appreciate the great and subtle acting and expression that the two of them use to power the prose.
We are deep into the story when we finally get J'Lyn Hope's dramatic entrance as Mrs. Muller, the mother of the boy possibly abused by Father Flynn. Hope is not old enough to be the mother of a 12 year old, but you wouldn't know. She conveys not just the era so well in her style and manner, but also the pain and stubborn determination that a Black mother - then and now - must embody while facing the horrible difficulty in raising a son against so many horrific obstacles. Hope conveys real maternal unconditional love, and leaves us wishing there were more scenes for her to shine her amazing light.
As Stanley's preface concludes, Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite - it is a passionate exercise. And you won't want to miss this passionate exercise helping us reenter the present.