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Heather Nielsen as Sister James and (Right) Alison Edwards as Sister Aloysius Beauvier.
Heather Nielsen as Sister James and (Right) Alison Edwards as Sister Aloysius Beauvier.

Theatre review: Doubt at Vermont Stage in Burlington

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Doubt runs at Vermont Stage Company in Burlington through February 3. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

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DOUBT, John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-wining drama, has been given a first-rate production by Vermont Stage Company.  The play is designed to engender uncertainty and discussion.  As Mr. Shanley said in an NPR interview, "I  do not profess to know the end of the play.  [It] takes place after the play is over, when you go out and have a drink and you have a fight with your wife about what happened."   DOUBT packs a lot of ideas into its 90-minute running time. 

Set in St. Nicholas Catholic Church and School in the Bronx in 1964, the play raises many difficult questions about the nature of uncertainty and that of blind faith.  The principal, Sister Aloysius, suspects that Father Flynn may have had an inappropriate relationship with a pupil.  With no overt proof, she is determined to find out the truth, but only succeeds in raising further doubts.

Designing for three-quarter round, Jeff Modereger has created an authentic-looking principal's office, complete with a black dial telephone.  Caleb Magoon's lighting is good and effectively isolates Father Flynn for his monologues.  Jenny C. Fulton's costumes are also authentic looking, including Mrs. Muller's 60s outfit.  Zach Williamson's birds add to the proceedings.

Having seen three of the four actors in various other productions, I was expecting good performances and certainly got them.  The fourth, Heather Nielsen, does an excellent job as the innocent Sister James, caught between her trust in goodness and the single-minded determination of Sister Aloysius. 

As Mrs. Muller, the student's mother, Pascale Armand gives a very strong performance.  Her demand that the principal should, "Accept what you accept and work with it!" is stunning.  She makes us understand the character's complex viewpoint.

Artistic Director Mark Nash is just fine as Father Flynn, and especially good in his sermon/monologues.  Alison Edwards is powerful as Sister Aloysius, who refuses to give up her fight for what she believes to be the truth.  Their confrontation scenes are terrific - full of suppressed tension.

Sara Lampert Hoover has done a great job of staging and directing DOUBT, bringing out all the humor in the early scenes.  I especially enjoyed the discussion about "Frosty the Snowman."  She's helped the actors show us both the complexities of the characters and those of this fascinating script.

To again quote the playwright, "The beginning of change is the moment of Doubt. . . . Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite."  In our increasingly combative "yes or no" society, perhaps we should learn to be a little more comfortable with both change and doubt.  This is my favorite kind of play.  Not only does it make you laugh, it makes you feel and most of all think.

On a scale of one to five the Vermont Stage Company production of DOUBT gets five ferry boats.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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