Directed by junior Will Gfeller, John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” was showcased on Nov. 19 as the sixth staged reading in the theater department’s annual staged reading series. The reading featured sophomore Allison Altschiller as Sister James, junior Benjamin Ranalli as Father Brendan Flynn and junior Brianna Jones as Mrs. Muller. Seniors Isabella Dixon and Alexandra Salerno also played Sister Aloysius Beauvier and the narrator respectively. The effort that went into production clearly paid off in this incredible and convincing production of Shanley’s work.
“Doubt” was written as a response to the knowledge of the myriad of sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church that emerged in 2005. This play depicts Aloysius’ struggle with figuring out whether or not Flynn had abused his position of power in their school in order to harm young boys and her attempts to remove him from the parish.
Gfeller explained that he read “Doubt” during his senior year of high school and instantly felt connected to it, loving the story’s ambiguity and its take on moral relativism.
While it appears that the main question of this play is whether or not Flynn sinned, the even more stimulating question is: what does one do when they’re unsure? “I think the whole play—being a character in it or being an actor in it or an audience member—really comes down to weighing your options,” Gfeller said.
Dixon agreed that the ambiguous nature of morality is something that was expressed not just in plot, but with characterization. “When we talked about my character—specifically in reference to the hierarchy of the church—we spoke about the fact that the people who are in charge aren’t always right—and sometimes they’re morally bankrupt,” he said. “Overall, there’s no real sense of checks and balances.”
Dixon also explained the dichotomy that existed within Aloysius: the moral fortitude that she finds in the Catholic faith and being a fierce guardian for children of the parish while also being treated poorly by the men around her. She struggles between knowing something is wrong and wanting to do what is right, but having to let that go.
Donald Muller is the boy whom Aloysius is particularly worried about being subjected to Flynn’s attention. In an effort to put an end to their relationship, she seeks Mrs. Muller—the boy’s mother—as an ally. In a surprising turn of events, however, Mrs. Muller does not react as expected.
“Mrs. Muller is such a difficult character to wrap your head around because she only appears in one scene, but you could make the argument that she’s the most important character in the whole play,” Gfeller said.
“I guess she believes that his going to a good high school and then college means he won’t have to deal with anything he’s dealt with before, or anything that she’s had to deal with,” Jones said. Donald Muller was the only African-American in his school, so he already experienced a lot of other hardships including racism. “So when Sister Aloysius brings up this idea that Father Flynn had started this inappropriate relationship with her son, she wants to block that out and sort of keep the ball rolling,” Jones added.
It was intriguing to hear the actors and director bounce between their decisions to judge Flynn as guilty or innocent—it depicted the subjectivity of any kind of art. New perspectives and new performances yielded to new ideas, which could sway opinions.
This was a spectacularly performed staged reading and a very thought-provoking play that, in Gfeller’s words, “boldly forces people to consider their personal code of ethics and to determine their own conclusions, instead of following along with group mentality.”