The play, Doubt, premiered back in 2004, in a production from the Manhattan Theatre Club that ultimately ran for more than a year on Broadway.

by Brian Morton
photo by Keith Sharpe

It has been almost exactly two years now, since the COVID-19 pandemic hit our shores, and quickly closed all of the theatre venues around Hamilton, both the professional and the community ones. So it was quite a joyous occasion, last Thursday evening, when I attended a performance of John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer prize and Tony Award winning play, Doubt; A Parable, out at the Garstin Centre for the Arts in Dundas.
Shanley's work, as a playwright, has quite often been staged around Hamilton, just in recent memory I recall local area productions of Leaving Mullingar, Danny In The Deep Blue Sea, and Dreamer Examines His Pillow. Cinema fans, will almost certainly remember his incredible screenplays for films, such as, Moonstruck, or Joe Versus The Volcano.

The play, Doubt, premiered back in 2004, in a production from the Manhattan Theatre Club that ultimately ran for more than a year on Broadway. It inspired an Academy Award-nominated film adaptation from 2008, which is the reason why, almost certainly, most members of the audience in Hamilton will have some familiarity of the source material. The film starred Amy Adams, Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Viola Davis, a high calibre of talent that will be hard to duplicate at a local level. Happily, I can report that Dundas Little Theatre has pulled off a fine staging of a difficult play.
It's clear from watching this production out in Dundas, that it was a labour of love for experienced director Dia Gupta Frid, and her talented cast of four actors. The play, concerns a popular parish priest, Father Brendan Flynn (Tim Hevesi), who is accused of molesting a 12-year-old boy, at a Catholic elementary school in the Bronx. The time period of the early 1960s, brings into sharp relief, the overt racial tension, based upon the fact, that the child in question is the only coloured boy in the school.
It begins with a conversation between two nuns, a popular history teacher, Sister James, (played earnestly and sincerely by Christine Marchetti) with a passion for educating her students, whose love of her class subjects and the annual Christmas pageant is subjugated by the domineering, Irish Mother Superior Sister Aloysius superbly performed in the Dundas production by Deb Dagenais.
The core of this wonderful play is a game of cat and mouse, between Sister Aloysius, and Father Flynn, it’s the sparring and cross examination, that drive the play an inexorably towards its climax. Hevesi, shines in the role of the popular Father Flynn, who councils the young lad after he steals some of the altar wine, and it is the fact of this theft becoming known, beyond just the boy and the priest, that precipitates a crisis that ultimately drives the play to its denouement.
The boy's mother, Mrs. Muller, is given a detailed and nuanced performance by a newcomer to Dundas Little theatre; Bangladesh born actor Sadequa Shahrook.. It was a very strong performance, in a minor but vitally important role.
I am certainly sympathetic to director Frid, and tragic difficulty around finding an actor in order to portray a culturally specific role. For many productions as long as the role is performed by someone not of the dominant culture, this cross casting can be quite effective.
Indeed, there are some plays, have that have been significantly revitalized by cross-cultural casting, the example of the two young Asian actors in the Newfoundland play, the two-hander Salt Water Moon, by David French, in a recent production by the Factory Theatre in Toronto, immediately comes to mind. But Doubt; a Parable, has already appeared in Hamilton, in a production by Theatre Aquarius, and therefore it can be hard to live up to that.
Producer Brenda Ewing, leads a dedicated and well-oiled production team, that includes a marvellous set by Michelle Chin, lovely costumes that provide authenticity, by costume designers Helena Adamczyk and Marie Dickie, and a moody and subdued lighting design by John Bello. Stage management, by LeAnn Paul, kept the whole thing running smoothly.
I must also make note of an extraordinarily beautiful musical composition, that was written by Tim Hevesi, and that was used several times for the scene transitions. A minor quibble though, recording several different versions of the composition, at different tempos and with changed dynamics would have been useful, but still, original music written specifically for a theatre production is an absolutely extraordinary, and wonderful thing.
The play Doubt: a Parable, is typically performed in two acts, but due to the pandemic, has been turned into a long 90 minute one act play. I thought this decision worked, although I did miss the interval as an opportunity to buy a drink. Due to the pandemic, in fact, the bar was closed; typically I'm not much of a drinker at theatre performances, but I think a glass of wine might have improved this particular production a great deal.
It was certainly an overwhelmingly wonderful experience to be sitting in a theatre again, even if the audience was limited only to 65 people. I felt comfortable and safe, and it was a wonderful evening out at the theatre. I must also make particular mention of the front of house staff at Dundas Little Theatre who worked very hard to accommodate my disability in the final few minutes before the curtain went up. My gratitude for your compassion and assistance.
Doubt: A Parable
by John Patrick Shanley
A Dundas Little Theatre production
At the Garstin Centre for the Arts,
Market Street, Dundas.
March 17, 18, 19 at 8:00pm
Matinee March 20 at 2:00pm

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