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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Tricycle Theatre

By Matt Wolf

  Padraic Delaney And Dearbhla Molloy/PH: John Haynes

I have doubts! I have such doubts! says the stern-faced Sister Aloysius ( Dearbhla Molloy) at the very close of John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Doubt: A Parable, her confession marking the moment at which the school principal's severity begins to crack. And, to be honest, I have doubts, too - not just about the viability of so extensively lauded an American play in London, a capital famously unfriendly to Tony and Pulitzer recipients in years past. (For proof, just ask the producers behind Wit, Side Man, Proof, How I Learned To Drive - and those are just for starters.) But compelling and playable though Shanley's intermissionless drama certainly is - and its London debut clocks in at 75 minutes, even less than in New York - I still feel after a second viewing of it that one has to take a fair amount of the drama on, um, faith. Which is another way of saying that a play subtitled A Parable works best on a metaphoric level, least well the more literally and closely you examine it.

Just what, for instance, has made Sister Aloysius so sure of herself and given rise to a woman of advancing years who has closed the door on the worldly engagement of her past and would appear to prowl the corridors of her church school in the Bronx ca. 1964 with the certainty one might associate with a current American president? We all know what his excuse is, but Sister Aloysius? And confronted though she is with the very cronyism of the church that results in an unexpected outcome for her nemesis, the possible child molester Father Flynn (Padraic Delaney), what actually prompts the cracks in the armor that accompany Shanley's ending: a risky finish, by the way, in its invocation of the play's very title to also provide its final words. (You don't find O'Neill's characters remarking to one another, Well, that was a long day's journey into night, wasn't it?)

Nor do I quite believe the scope of what is the best scene in the play - the lengthy exchange between Mrs. Muller, the young black mother of the 12-year-old boy with whom Father Flynn may or may not have interfered, and Sister Aloysius, who is apprised of the abusive household from which her school's first and only black student in fact comes. Would a black mother in a pre-Civil Rights America be quite so conversant with matters of sexuality that can be landmines in families, not least minority families, even now? The conversation makes for dynamite drama even as it feels distinctly 21st-century. Perhaps on this point, as with other aspects of the play, Shanley was torn between honoring his own past as the product of an apparently not dissimilar school to St. Nicholas's seen here and his ongoing, and perfectly rightful, dismay at the (overzealous) state of the nation right now. The result is a play that resonates more for the larger questions it poses than for the details of a plot that doesn't entirely add up. All the more reason that one awaits with some avidity the imminent film of this script, to star Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

And what of Tricycle artistic director Nicholas Kent's UK premiere? As seen at the final preview, it was clear that both Molloy and Delaney will grow into roles at which they were ever so slightly gnawing the edges, though it's a real relief not to have the young nun, Sister James, played as the imbecilic ninny presented in New York. (A sweet-faced if rather bland Marcella Plunkett takes the role here.) The best of the four cast members is Nikki Amuka-Bird a


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