Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Doubt

Anne Shepherd and Maja Rakocevic.
Photo by Danielle Son. (company website)

I Have My Certainty
Strong performances overcome a few directorial issues
by Stuart Munro

Opening in 2004 to critical acclaim, John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable went on to win both the Tony Award and Pultizer Price before being adapted into a major motion picture in 2008. With clout like that, it’s no wonder Bygone Theatre has chosen Doubt as its inaugural production. The production, while a tad uneven, is nonetheless able to showcase the strength of Shanley’s writing, and is an admirable start for this new company.

While a tad young to be playing the role, Jordan Gray as Father Flynn really steals the show.

In short, Doubt is the story of two nuns, Sister Aloysius (Anne Shepherd) and Sister James (Maja Rakocevic), the principal and a teacher respectively at St. Nicholas Church School, who begin to suspect that parish priest Father Flynn (Jordan Gray) is having an inappropriate relationship with the first African-American child to attend their school. As Aloyisius, Anne Shepherd is appropriately up-tight and conservative, but never quite as cynical as one might expect the role to go, making her accusations of Father Flynn all the more shocking and seemingly well intentioned when they do come to light. Ms. Rakocevic’s Sister James is near perfect as the young, naïve new teacher, though sometimes her enthusiasm and shock fall a bit flat. Mrs. Muller, the mother of the young boy at the centre of this controversy, is strongly played by Karen Simpson. Determined and desperate to protect her son, her suggestion of how to deal with the situation was shocking enough to make my guest last night incredibly uncomfortable. While a tad young to be playing the role, Jordan Gray as Father Flynn really steals the show. He is every bit the likable, personable, excellent public speaker that the character needs to be, making it all the more difficult to believe the accusations leveled against him. I hope to see more of this actor in the future.

Director Emily Dix does a good job using the various levels of the venue and limited resources to create the multiple locations that the play demands. (As a side note, as someone unfamiliar with University College, I could’ve used a little more direction in finding the venue. I ended up walking through the backstage area. My apologies to all!) The pacing, however, doesn’t always work, and the tension in certain key scenes fails to boil quite to the top. As Aloysius, Ms. Shepherd is perhaps a little too laid back about her suspicions – an inattentive viewer might actually miss what’s going on early on, so delicate is the language used – and her passion and certainty only really come alive in the scene with Mrs. Muller. The scene changes are often smooth and seamless, and are aided by a live choir at the back of the hall. Music Director Leete Stetson has chosen a number of hymns (including the appropriately titled “Let all mortal flesh keep silence”), and while the choir struggles with the harmonies, the effect is nevertheless effective. Karen Henderson’s costumes are wonderfully authentic and really help to sew together the look and feel of the Catholic Church in 1964.

Despite some issues, Doubt: A Parable is a solid first outing for Bygone Theatre, and I look forward to seeing more from this company.

Doubt runs to January 19

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I just saw this play! Jordan Gray was amazing!!! FInally a great actor in Toronto! I wouldn't be surprised if we see him on the award shows in the near future! Good job Bygone Theatre :)


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