By AERIEL MERILLAT
Controversy, religion, lies, sexuality, nuns, accusations, dramatic lighting and intensity; these are all things that the University of Mary Washington theatre department brought to the Klein Theatre stage with their first production of the 2014-2015 season, John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Doubt.”
The show’s opening weekend saw a house packed with people old and young, creating a welcoming mixture of UMW students and people from around the Fredericksburg community.
The play revolves around a four-character cast, including one priest, two nuns and an angry mother.
The story is set in 1964 at St. Nicholas, a Catholic Church and school in the Bronx. The time period is just after John F. Kennedy’s death and while segregation is still a social norm.
The plot of “Doubt” centers on an accusation that the strict principal of the school, Sister Aloysius (Catalina Ruiz de Gamboa), puts against the charismatic priest, Father Flynn (Stephen Nickens).
Sister Agnes charges Father Flynn with the crime of sexually exploiting one of his students, who is also the first African-American student integrated into their Catholic school.
The play has a complex plot that allows for an intertwining of multiple taboo issues, resulting in an intriguing and entertaining storyline.
There was a lot of controversy swirling around the UMW theatre department’s choice to bring such a socially challenging play to the school, especially as their season opener.
While the subject matter was heavy, the show’s make-up designer Liz Krump said that director Helen M. Housley and the actors “handled the issues with respect and in a way that did not treat them lightly.”
The feedback among students who attended the opening weekend show was positive. Junior English major Katie Hall said, “The play was well executed, very minimalistic and suited the material well.”
Among other students who enjoyed the production was Sarah Van Giezen, a junior economics major who said, “When the lights came back on and the play was done, I forgot I was in a theatre and felt like I was in a church.”
John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt,” written in 2005, originally played on Broadway before being made into a movie starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep. Shanley wrote the play based on his own experiences of being a product of a Catholic education.
As a child, Shanley was kicked out of every Catholic school he attended and encountered a multitude of controversies in his years, providing plenty of material for him to create the very successful “Doubt.”
Once the play was over, the audience was invited to stay for a Q&A with the actors. A large portion of the audience came prepared with a variety of questions for the four actors. Ruiz de Gamboa explained that the play was “not an attack on Catholicism and faith, but a commentary on problems that can occur and can happen in almost any organization.”
She also reminded the audience to “keep in mind that these things happen and unfortunately do still happen.”
When Nickens was asked if he thought Father Flynn did or did not truly exploit the boy, he replied, “I’ll leave that one up to you.”
It can be said, in the least, that as the audience filed out of their seats they were left with a certain unsatisfied sense of doubt.
Despite the tough issues in Klein Theatre’s first production of the season, “Doubt” proved to have a successful opening weekend. The show will continue to play through Sunday, Oct. 5, and tickets can be bought at the Klein Theatre Box Office.