Pagosa troupe erases doubt in latest effort

Doug Chapin/Thingamajig Theatre Co.

Sister Aloysius (Laura Moore) tells Mrs. Muller (Sharina Ramsey-Adams) she should be worried about Father Flynn and his relationship with her son in the Thingamajig Theatre Company’s production of “Doubt: A Parable.”

By Leanne Goebel
Special to the Herald

“Doubt: A Parable” is a 2004 play by John Patrick Shanley that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award for Best Play. Shanley also directed a movie version in 2008 featuring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis, all of whom were nominated for Academy Awards.

I had my own doubts about Thingamajig Theatre Company’s production of the play at Pagosa Springs Center for Arts, given the bar that had been set by the film. Regional audiences will more likely have seen the movie than a production of the play, and I’m pleased to say that they will not be disappointed in the acting, the sets and the quality of this production.

Thingamajig is entering its second year, and it has already staged 10 significant productions. Some have worked better than others, and I have been concerned that they were trying to do too many productions featuring artistic director Tim Moore and his wife, Laura, in key acting and directing roles. The couple has imported actors from Denver for past productions. But for “Doubt,” local and regional actors play the four characters, including the Moores as Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius, in addition to Anna Hershey as Sister James and Sharina Ramsey-Adams as Mrs. Muller.

The play is set in the fall of 1964 in the fictional St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx. It opens with Father Flynn, a beloved and progressive parish priest, reflecting upon the assassination of President Kennedy the year before. He addresses the doubt and fear sparked by that event: “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty.”

In equally weighted contrast to Father Flynn is Sister Aloysius (played by Streep in the film), the school principal who is rigidly conservative and insists on constant vigilance.

During a meeting with the younger nun and teacher Sister James, we learn that Aloysius deeply mistrusts her students, her fellow clergy and sisters and society in general.

Sister James reports to Aloysius that Father Flynn has met one-on-one with Donald Muller, the school’s first African-American student.

Unclear circumstances lead Aloysius to believe that sexual misconduct has occurred. She confronts Father Flynn under the guise of discussing the Christmas pageant, forcing Sister James to be present.

Flynn denies any wrongdoing, insisting he was disciplining Donald for drinking altar wine while trying to prevent his removal from the altar boys. Sister James is relieved, believing Flynn’s explanation.

Flynn’s next sermon is on the evils of gossip. But Sister Aloysius is undeterred and meets with Donald’s mother. Despite Aloysius’ accusations, Mrs. Muller stands by her son and his relationship with Father Flynn saying that he only need remain in school until June and then he will be off to high school. During her pivotal scene, Mrs. Muller hints that Donald may be “that way,” and suggests that her husband beats him.

The setting and costumes are well done as usual. Tim Moore as Flynn speaks with a slight Bronx brogue that sounds accurate, and I felt as if I were in church because of the intimacy of the theater. And when Flynn addressed the audience from the pulpit in his liturgical attire, I almost felt compelled to cross myself.

Laura Moore as Sister Aloysius is harsh, critical and never once flinches. She doesn’t need a ruler to instill fear.

Hershey is ideally cast as Sister James, and Thingamajig newcomer

Ramsey-Adams is achingly tragic as Mrs. Muller.

As the play progresses, the doubt builds and is never resolved, leaving each audience member to draw his or her own conclusion. Do you identify with Father Flynn? Are you more in line with Sister Aloysius? Or are you sympathetic and like Sister James?

Thingamajig’s production is performed in one act and runs about 90 minutes, leaving plenty of time for audience members to discuss their differing opinions about the play over a cup of coffee or a cocktail in the lobby.

Leanne Goebel is a freelance writer and member of the International Association of Art Critics. Reach her at artsjournalist@mac.com.

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