Review: Doubt: A Parable (UC Follies / Bygone Theatre)

No doubts about the merit of Doubt, performed by Toronto’s Bygone Theatre

The program for Doubt has on its cover a portrait of a young priest.

He stares directly at the viewer. His eyes set off by a melancholic blue-purplish background. His lips pursed.

The portrait, which looks a bit like it’s been done in colored pencils, was – and is, as I look at it again now – hypnotic. 

When the play starts, we find ourselves transported into a Catholic high school. Not much of a stretch; the vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows of University College’s East Hall serve the setting well.

Soon enough, we find out it’s a school for boys. And with just a few hundred pupils, it’s relatively intimate. 

Before long we meet the school principal, Sister Aloysius, played by Anne Shepherd. 

In our introduction to her, the headmaster verbally impales a newbie teacher named Sister James, played by Maja Rakocevic, for including art in her curriculum. Basically the principal comes-off as a stodgy ole church conservative.

Sister Aloysius then turns her attention to another greenhorn named Father Flynn, played by Jordan Gray – the spitting image of the priest on the program cover. It’s not much of a surprise. He seems like a genuinely nice guy. The very opposite of the hard-ass disciplinarian she’d like every teacher to be.

There’s something suspicious to the elderly nun about what exactly is going on between the priest and one particular student named Donald Muller.

In a remarkable twist that I don’t want to give-away – Doubt will almost certainly be produced again in Toronto – Donald’s mother, played by Karen Simpson, meets with headmaster on the matter of her son’s relationship to his teacher.

While the action revolves around suspicions about what’s going on – if anything – between a student and devilishly handsome, steadfastly serious teacher, Doubt is blessed with a fantastic ensemble of characters, each played convincingly.

Credit also belongs to John Patrick Shanley who has written meticulously felt characters, which allows a bold play to emerge.

Though the run at University College has closed, there’s an award-winning movie version of the play directed by Shanley. And I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before Doubt returns to a stage in our city.