Taproot’s ‘Doubt’ taps into faith, uncertainty

  • By Dale Burrows For the Enterprise
  • Thursday, April 3, 2008 5:12pm

Fact: Higher ups in the Catholic Church grant priests and nuns sabbaticals and reassignments when they have serious doubts about their faith.

Ever wonder why the higher ups are so understanding? What their thinking is? Why they don’t just cut Doubting Thomases loose and be done with them? Or try to talk them out of what they are going through? What’s up?

Taproot’s “Doubt, A Parable” hooks you up.

This intellectual nail-biter by John Patrick Shanley got a Pulitzer for penetrating the human side of certainty, doubt and faith. You can’t see it and not react.

St. Helena’s threw Bronx-born playwright John Patrick Shanley out of kindergarten. St. Anthony’s banned him from the hot lunch program. Cardinal Spellman High School expelled him. New York University put him on probation. The Marine Corps straightened him out. The rest is screen- and playwriting history.

Who better to write about the Catholic Church than a renegade from the inside?

And who better to stage Shanley’s writing than a troupe dedicated to acting?

None, say I, after watching Taproot at work for 90 uninterrupted minutes. Their “Doubt” modified my perspective.

Parable wise, a doubter, Father Flynn, a priest who questions his beliefs, stands accused.

The accusation? That he victimized a schoolboy.

The accuser? A believer, Sister Aloysius, a mother superior who accepts her beliefs with absolute certainty.

The basis of the accusation? Hearsay from an untested Sister James, a newly appointed nun who has yet to question her beliefs or accept them with absolute certainty.

The kicker? Mrs. Muller, the mother of the boy involved. Mrs. Muller stands by her boy, period.

Sister Aloysius’ office, a Catholic church and school in the Bronx, New York, 1964, sets the investigation into the accusation. Finding the facts is the focal point. What do the facts mean? That, the theatergoer is left to decide.

Don’t get me wrong. This is no cat and mouse, no whodunit, nothing of the kind. Director Scott Nolte makes of it what it is intended to be: a dramatic inquiry into how you look at things.

A brilliant William Kumma doesn’t help any. His Father Flynn is affable, gets along with the kids, appears concerned with them and resolved to be the best priest he can. Problem is Kumma walks the fine line between covering up and being honestly taken back by slanderous allegations. Saint or sinner? You judge.

Equally so, for Pam Nolte’s Sister Aloysius. Articulate, clearheaded and persuasive, Nolte gets you going. I dare you not to be a witness for the prosecution. The picture of piety or “Portrait of Dorian Gray?” You judge.

How heart wrenching is Jesse Notehelfer’s Sister James? Read Notehelfer’s body language, and you read the child of faith called upon to judge for herself. Confusion, torment and growing awareness, remember those days? Notehelfer brings them back.

Experience at the street level, that is the message Faith Russell’s Mrs. Muller sends. Russell puts across kindly, caring and non-judgmental but at the gut level that survival outside the church can insist upon. Niceties of distinction have no place in the world of a working mother whose boy is hurting. He’s going to school to better himself. She will see he does, period. Russell embodies the facts of life. Outstanding performance.

I regard this production as important. It raises questions our world leaders should ask each other face to face. Want to raise the bar? Want to go to the next level?

See Taproot’s “Doubt, A Parable.”

Reactions? Comments? E-mail Dale Burrows at entopinion@herladnet.com or grayghost7@comcast.net.

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