I saw John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, A Parable five days ago, and I'm still not sure what I think about it.
Not the Harvest Theatre production; it is uniformly excellent.
Rather, I'm having trouble deciding which side I'm on, such is the power of Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning work.
Basically, Doubt is about a priest accused of molesting a child. Maybe he did it, or maybe the accusations are unfounded. Shanley presents a lot of information and allows the audience to be the jury.
It's not an easy decision.
The play opens with a charismatic young priest, Father Brenden Flynn, presenting a sermon about gossip and how, once the words are out of one's mouth, they can never be reclaimed. The sermon sets the tone for what is to come.
Father Flynn is a priest at St. Nicholas parish and school in the Bronx in 1964. It is right after Vatican II, when Pope John XXXIII attempted to "throw open the windows of the [Catholic] Church so that we can see out and the people can see in."
Flynn embraces the changes in the church and the attempts to make it more welcoming. He plays basketball with the boys in the school, offering them gentle nudges about hygiene and behavior even as he lets them know that they always have his sympathetic ear.
The young priest is the antithesis of Sister Aloysius, the principal of the parish school, who wants no part of this touchy-feely new church. She lives her life by rules and distrusts anyone who doesn't. Her job is to get the youngsters in her school shuffled through with as little fuss as possible. She exhorts young Sister James to quell her passion for teaching in order to keep an eagle eye on her eighth-grade class, and she also strongly suggests that she doesn't think Father Flynn's behavior is as innocent as it seems, telling Sister James to watch for anything out of the ordinary.
Intimidated by Sister Aloysius, Sister James later reluctantly reports that one of the new boys, Donald Muller, returned from private chat in the rectory with Father Flynn, and he seemed upset and had alcohol on his breath.
As the first African-American at the school, Donald has no friends, and his isolation makes him easy prey for a sympathetic father figure.
Sister Aloysius' suspicions harden into certainties.
It would be easy to dismiss the older nun as a hidebound fool, but Shanley drops tantalizing bits of information about her past that gives her ample experience from which to draw her conclusions.
She had been married once, taking her vows only after World War II turned her into a widow. She understands that the chain of command (of which nuns are at the bottom) exists to provide structure to the church. She also knows that the hierarchy of priest-monsignor-bishop-cardinal-pope can hide a lot that the church doesn't want made public. And she knows how to gather information.
And icy though she seems, it's obvious that she cares about her pupils, a fact made especially clear in her meeting with Donald's mother.
But for every suspicion Sister Aloysius has, Father Flynn has a reasonable, heartfelt answer.
Sister James is caught in the middle, wanting to believe Father Flynn but knowing that Sister Aloysius' years of experience have given her many insights into the human psyche.
Making Shanley's play even more compelling is the cast that Harvest's producing director, William Quinlan, has assembled.
Kyle Kutchenriter, a 2005 graduate of the University of Findlay's theater performance program, is charismatic as the young priest who aches to make religion relevant to the people he serves. Kimberly Yost, who was a hoot last year as the title character in Harvest's Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge, is perfect as the domineering Sister Aloysius, whose sparing smiles are as terrifying as her righteous outrage.
Jennifer Holman and Felicia Hill, who also were in Mrs. Bob Cratchit, connect the most with the audience. Holman's Sister James is an innocent who wants to believe the best of everyone, and Hill's Mrs. Muller has a painful awareness of how the world works and has come to terms with the need to compromise.
The terrible beauty of Doubt is that Shanley supplies no answers. And if the play is about the Catholic Church, its lessons easily can be carried over to the lives of every man and woman, whether they are religious or not.
Don't be so quick to judge, Doubt is saying. Even if you do have all the information, you may not have all the answers.
"Doubt, A Parable" finishes its run at 8 p.m. today and tomorrow in the old Frame Shop, 1811 Adams St., in the Uptown District. Tickets are $17 for adults, $13 for students and seniors, and $10 for student rush (15 minutes before curtain, if seats are available). A discussion with the cast is scheduled after tonight's show. Information: 419-902-0608.
Contact Nanciann Cherry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6130.