Magnus Theatre’s Doubt: A Parable

Review by Kyle Poluyko, Photo by Scott Hobbs

John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Doubt: A Parable, on stage at Magnus Theatre through March 21, is intended to be a suspenseful, tension-filled story, rooted in a subtle presumption that becomes a shocking accusation. While the performances are fine – even admirable – they fail to reach the expected and wanted levels of suspense and tension resulting in a bland offering.

Sister Aloysius (Linda Goranson), principal of St. Nicholas Church School, is a vigilant and uncompromising nun. Strict and conservative, Aloysius judges situations and people dispassionately. Sister James (Stephanie Izsak), a young teacher at the catholic school, is a more compassionate and empathetic person, though confused and intimidated by Aloysius. Father Flynn (Mark Weatherly) is an admired and valued priest. His progressive nature is hardly appreciated by Aloysius, giving rise to a suspicion about Flynn’s appropriateness with Donald, the school’s only African-American male student. Aloysius goads the weaker James into a confrontation with Flynn in which the suspicion becomes an accusation of predatoriness.

As Aloysius, Goranson is competent and dedicated. She has great command of her extensive dialogue and delivers it with truth. While Goranson’s performance conveys intimidation it settles more on the uncomfortable rather than tense and threatening. The audience is told the students fear Aloysius, she wields the consummate threat against a man to whom she is supposed to defer – and even blackmails Flynn – but the tension doesn’t rise and the suspense is suspended.

Izsak’s Sister James is likeable and sincere. Her portrayal of abashment and demoralization at the hands of Aloysius crests admirably with true emotion smartly devoid of hysterics or over-exaggeration. Weatherly’s father Flynn is also likeable, but is frustratingly restrained. Flynn is indignant at the accusation and has threats of his own for Aloysius, yet Weatherly almost exudes no more than annoyance at the whole affair.

On stage for the shortest amount of time but making the most dramatic and emotionally rich performance is Michelle E. White. White’s Mrs. Mueller (Donald’s mother) is strong and determined, liberal and not about to be shocked by Aloysius. When she says Donald “may be that way” and, if his alleged encounters with Flynn benefit Donald, Aloysius should “…let him have him,” White grips the audience and raises the bar to where it belonged.

Doug Robinson’s set design, a convent’s stone courtyard and Aloysius’ office, is uncomplicated – clean and colour rich. Kirsten Watt’s lighting design warmly compliments Robinson’s design, with tones that authentically establish both interior and exterior scenes. Authentic, too, are Mervi Agombar’s costumes, competently bearing the period and catholic vestments. Mario Crudo’s direction is fluid as the play progresses nicely with estimable performances, leaving the audience without certainty and their own doubt.

Magnus Theatre’s production of Doubt, A Parable, runs through March 21. For more information call 345-5552 or visit magnus.on.ca

Photo By Scott Hobbs

Linda Goranson as Sister Aloysius,

and Stephanie Izsak as Sister James.