Producing the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Doubt, A Parable,” in the 40-seat café at NOVA Center for the Performing Arts is brilliant because you can’t escape the tension.
The Yellowstone Repertory Theatre’s debut production finishes its run Nov. 17 and 18. It is directed by Craig Huisenga, Yellowstone Rep’s artistic director.
The mission statement of the new company, which joins four other theater companies in Billings, is to dare the artist and captivate and inspire the audience.
So far, the company is three for three on hitting its goals. Two more productions are set for the season, including Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” in March and the Pulitzer-Prize-winning “Crimes of the Heart,” by Beth Henley in June.
Yellowstone Rep managing director Dina Brophy said it’s been a two-year project to get the company off the ground.
“It’s the realization of our dreams,” Brophy said.
In an age of too little fact checking and too much finger pointing, especially on social media, "Doubt" forces us to examine our instincts and prejudices.
Throughout the 90-minute play, which is performed without an intermission, the characters discuss the delicate matter of alleged inappropriate contact with a 12-year-old boy. In fact, the matter is so delicate that the phrase “inappropriate contact” is never used. What is remarkable about the script is how objective it is. There is a reason "Doubt" won both a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize "in 2005.
You don’t have to be Catholic to understand that nuns have a reputation for severity and that altar boys sometimes imbibe in the sacred wine. And you certainly don’t have to be Catholic to know that in the last two decades the church has been criticized for shielding priests who had inappropriate contact with children.
Even though playwright John Patrick Stanley attended a Catholic school in the Bronx for eight years, he does not allow himself to preach on the situation, but rather he pulls back and allows the audience to ponder the big question, “Did he do it?”
Sister Aloysius, played by Bobbi Hawk, is immediately, almost comically unlikeable. She is a dour killjoy who tries to extinguish the fire from the passionate young nun, Sister James. Caitlin Hart is so believable as Sister James, she even blushes with fury as she gets exasperated at Aloysius’s assumptions.
“Innocence can only be wisdom in a world without evil,” Sister Aloysius tells Sister James.
Later in the play, Father Flynn, played by Daniel Nickerson, notes, “The most innocent act can seem evil to a poisonous mind.”
Flynn is likable right from the start. He’s as breezy and progressive as Aloysius is stern and old-fashioned. It gives testament to Hawk and Nickerson’s acting chops that they can pull their characters out of the stereotypes, which allows the roles to evolve and the audience to question everything and everyone.
Flynn befriends a 12-year-old boy, who is the only black student at the school. Even though the plot revolves around what did or did not happen to the boy, the lad never appears in the play. Instead, we meet his mother, Mrs. Muller, who leaves Sister Aloysius speechless with her honesty. Wanda Morales is powerful in this role as a woman so used to living with racism that she doesn’t even flinch when she speaks of repression.
The show opens with Father Flynn’s sermon, establishing the time element of the show as 1964 by referencing how Americans recently came together in their grief over the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963. He also expresses the idea that doubt binds us, too.
Throughout the production, there is something to fear and appreciate in each character, even from Mrs. Muller who spends only 10 minutes on stage.
Who is the hero and who is the villain of this show? No matter who you chose to fill those roles, you will doubt yourself.