At Pacific Theatre until March 31
Without a doubt, director Ron Reed and his cast of four get this John Patrick Shanley play right. So exquisitely does Shanley strike a balance, we leave the theatre in the same state as Sister Aloysius (Erla Faye Forsyth) and Sister James (Kaitlin Williams): full of doubt. Did Father Flynn (Giovanni Mocibob) behave inappropriately toward his young black student? Or was he simply protecting the boy against the school bullies?
In a 2004 New York Times article, Shanley said, "It was homosexual teachers for the most part who saved me. The head of discipline at [my school] was gay, and he was my friend and protector. Did he have his reasons for being interested in me? Everybody has their reasons_ Many of these people never cross the line." But a cousin of Shanley's was abused and his abuser was, as in Doubt, promoted and moved to another parish.
Reed cleverly casts Forsyth as Sister Aloysius; it's tempting to think the nun is simply mean-spirited but Forsyth brings just enough warmth to the role that it's impossible to condemn her character completely.
Williams maintains a demeanor of anxiety once Sister Aloysius knocks the sweetness out of her character; and Mocibob is boyishly earnest as the accused priest.
With impressive dignity, Leslie Lewis Sword (as Mrs. Muller, the boy's mother) stands up to Sister Aloysius. Sad and shocking as it is, Mrs. Muller may be right in saying it doesn't matter whether the boy has been "interfered with" as long as he graduates.
Playwright Tony Kushner, in the same NY Times article, said Shanley's plays are well made, sharp, economical and coherent. "He's not a misanthrope, but he's in pursuit of why people behave as badly as they do along with having a great compassion for them. That's an unusual and interesting combination."
This play and this stellar Pacific Theatre production leave no doubt about the truth of Kushner's praise.