Doubt, A Parable

by John Patrick Shanley
directed by Michael Whitehill

Sept 8 – Sept 24
Fri & Sat at 8:00 pm, Sun at 2:00 pm
Adults $20, Members $15, Students $10
Tickets Here

Set in a Church School in the Bronx in 1964, just one year after John F. Kennedy’s assassination and on the brink of the Civil Rights Movement, Doubt, a Parable examines how far one is willing to go in the name of Truth. Themes of social hierarchy within the parish steer a passionate conflict surrounding the school’s first African-American student.

This drama discusses weighty issues and raises questions that do not have firm answers—one that will leave you thinking long after the theatre lights fade. Thus this Special site has been constructed to share knowledge and spark discussion about the show— before, during & after the performance.

Presented by special arrangement with DRAMATISTS PLAY SERVICE, INC., NEW YORK


Director’s Notes

Dictionaries define a parable as a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson and as a statement or comment that conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison, analogy, or the like.  The play you are soon bearing witness to is in its whole just that; a lesson we all need to revisit. This is a small play in pages, but a leviathan in meaning and message.  While there are stories within the larger story here, the messages are clear, urgent, and in some measure, painful.  Our play is set in a Catholic school, in 1964, in The Bronx, New York at a time when challenges to norms were building.  The Second Ecumenical Council of The Vatican (Vatican II) sought, among many things, to start a dialogue with the contemporary world.  The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution further headed America to war in Vietnam.  Technologies awoke and Hippies along with them.  In other words, the most dreaded of all human challenges was coming inexorably ahead in the form of Change.

As we all know today, the Catholic Church faced its own worldwide crisis with the evolving revelation in allegations and proof of wide spread pederasty in the priesthood. I do not believe this play has much, if anything, to do with that issue.  That matter does, however, provide the perfect vehicle to drive two greater and more urgent moral messages home to us in the current times.    This play must make us more mindful of what we are losing today with the erosion moral of principles designed to protect us from ourselves.    As examples, in the Christian faith we call it gossip, in Judaism we call it lashon-hara or improper speech, in the Doctrine of Islam we call it backbiting and in all three we are taught these things are “unlawful” and punishable moral failings.  Where is the punishment today for posting a hurtful comment in Facebook® , or a damaging personal photo on Instagram®, or a  mindless  personal assault on Twitter®.  We seem to know there are consequences for crying “Fire!”in a crowded theater in the absence of fire.  Who is teaching us today the principles of moral conscience.  Fewer folks are learning these early enough to matter, and punishments are those we cannot see.  Improper speech, or the spreading of rumor if you like, hurts the speaker as much or more than those about whom it is spoken.  You will live that truth from beginning to end in this play.

When a word or sound leaves your lips it can never be returned. Most of us do not have the resources to completely remove the satins of social media damage. We must live with it.  This brings us to another theme for you to ponder and that is the ineluctable bond holding Faith and Doubt together.  They seem antithetical, but one cannot be without the presence of the other.  Doubt appears positively many time in all the doctrines cited above. The strength of our faith is founded on the doubt that made it so.  Crises of conscience are the stuff of our humanity.  Unavoidably so.  There is a “bright line” in our humanity and I believe we all know when we are stepping over it.  It is that instant flash of regret we may feel when we speak ill of others and the sleep lost to finding a way to undo our wrong, and the desire to cross the street away from those we to whom we have been unkind.  Let each of us ask whether the brightness of that line is still strong enough to warn us away or whether it has faded to the point we can no longer see it or no longer care.  We hope you find some meaning in this performance that will brighten that line for you.


Questions to Consider … and Discuss

About the author John Patrick Shanley

Born in 1950, Shanley, the youngest of six, grew up in an Irish-Catholic family. Having grown up in what Shanley says, “a very violent neighborhood,” he found that writing served as a coping mechanism while living in the, “extremely anti-intellectual and extremely racist,” Bronx neighborhood of East Tremont. East Tremont was home to many working class Irish immigrant families where he, “often found himself in constant fist fights from the time I was six (Witchel, 2004).”

From the beginning, Shanley had a hard time accepting the world of academe– having been, “thrown out of St. Helena’s kindergarten, banned from St. Anthony’s hot lunch program and expelled from Cardinal Spellman High school.” Going to Catholic schools was not his forte, however, after leaving the strictness of the all-boys Cardinal Spellman High School where Shanley said, “They beat children with their fists,” he found his way to the Catholic church affiliated Thomas Moore Preparatory School in Harrisville, New Hampshire. It was here that Shanley found the more benevolent teachers that would encourage his writing talents. As a teen, Shanley wrote copious amounts of poetry, a precursor to his skills as a prolific playwright (Witchell, 2004).   After graduating from Thomas Moore he went to New York University where, after a year, his tenure was cut short due to poor grades. After enlisting in the Marines and a tour in Vietnam, Shanley would later return to New York University and at the age of 27 graduate valedictorian of his class from New York University‘s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development with a degree in Educational Theatre (John Patrick Shanley. (n.d.) in Wikipedia).

Since then John Patrick Shanley has become an American stage and film titan. As a playwright he has authored over 24 plays, he often directs much of what he has written and has written many a notable screenplay, of which include–the Academy Award winning Moonstruck, Congo, and Doubt (adapted from his play of the same name) (Doubt. (n.d.) In Wikipedia).

About the play: Doubt, A Parable

Doubt was inspired by a relative’s experience with a priest who was convicted of child molestation.  The backdrop for the play is set in 1964 at St. Nicholas, a Catholic church and school in the Bronx, New York. The characters within the play are:

Father Flynn: an articulate and compassionate priest accused of sexually abusing Donald Muller, the first, and only, black student to attend St. Nicholas.

Sister James: a young, impressionable, perhaps naïve, nun and teacher who may have smelled alcohol on Donald Muller’s breathe after spending time with Father Flynn.

Sister Aloysius: a domineering, stoic, strict pedagogue, whose certainty of Flynn’s guilt serves as a major through line throughout the play.

Mrs. Muller: The mother of Donald Muller is faced with the difficult decision of choosing between her son’s safety in the school, or at home with an abusive father.

Doubt: A Parable ran on Broadway from March 31, 2005 to July 2, 2006 and won four Tony awards in 2005, [ Best Play, Best Direction of a Play (Doug Hughes),  Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play (Cherry Jones),   Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play (Adriane Lenox)], and the Pulitzer Prize for drama .

In 2007, production began for Doubt, the movie. Adapted for the screen and directed by Shanley, the movie starred Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Father Flynn), Meryl Streep (Sister Aloysius), Viola Davis (Mrs. Muller, ‘Miller’ in the film), and Amy Adams (Sister James). In 2009, the movie received five Academy award nominations, four best actor nominations, for the aforementioned, and one for best screenplay, Shanley. Doubt’s acclaim and accolades are in part due to the questions and subjectivities that arise throughout it (Doubt. (n.d.). In IMDB online. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0918927/).