Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Review of Doubt

Riverside - If you're a theatre person, every once in a while you read a play and immediately know it's one you want to produce. Such was my thought when I first read Doubt by John Patrick Shanley. It possesses a richness of language and a deepness of thought that are intoxicating. In the proper hands, it could be a night of powerful theatre. Fortunately, Riverside Theatre knows what to do with such an excellent play.

Doubt tells the story of Sister Aloysius and her dogged pursuit of Father Flynn (Tim Budd), whom she suspects has molested one of the boys in her school. Despite a few times when opening night jitters caused them to speak over each other's lines, the actors in this show gave first rate performances. Jody Hovland is particularly good as the rigid Sister Aloysius. Hovland adopts a tone and specific cadence to her voice which help her cloak herself within the character. She also uses physicality to show the character's unbending pursuit of the truth as she nearly always stands ramrod straight as if she were a steel statue. The one moment in the play when she chooses to let that steel bend underscores the message of the play beautifully.

Tim Budd is also excellent as Father Flynn. Budd's sermons from the podium are delivered with just the right amount of earnestness and condescension, highlighting the complexity of his character. Kristy Hartsgrove, who plays Sister James, the naive nun co-opted into Sister Aloysius' mission, turns in a sympathetic performance and handles the few moments of comedy in the play very well. But more importantly, Hartsgrove's conflicted Sister James never loses her sweet sincerity allowing her to fulfill her role in the final scene of the play. Connie Winston plays Mrs. Muller, the mother of the boy who may have been abused by Father Flynn. Winston has in some ways the most difficult scene in the entire play as her reaction to the possible abuse is, to say the least, surprising. That she pulls off the scene with such skill is noteworthy.

The set is simple and effective with the pulpit separating the two acting spaces: Sister Aloysius' office and the grounds of the school. Making Flynn's pulpit the highest point was an excellent decision as it emphasizes the hierarchical nature of the church that Sister Aloysius must confront. The one technical flaw in the show was the background. When lit for the outdoor scenes, it conveyed a cool blue and underscored the action, but when lit for the indoor scenes, it produced a glare that was distracting.

Despite those few small imperfections, strong direction by Bruce Wheaton and excellent performances by all four actors make this a show you do not want to miss. Doubt runs through February 17. More information available here.

--Matthew Falduto

Matthew has a Bachelor's degree in English from the University of Iowa. He has directed, acted in, and produced theater in the Iowa City area for over ten years. He has worked with the Iowa City Community Theatre, City Circle and Dreamwell, of which he is a founder. Two of his plays have been produced in the Iowa City area. In another brief life, he also worked as a technical writer.

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