Given an idea but not the facts can we make the right decisions? Do we believe what we're told simply because it comes from an authority figure, or do we look for the truth in our hearts? Can a parable—a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth—help us to understand the issues better?
Like its playwright, John Patrick Shanley, the drama "Doubt," is set in the Bronx. The Company of Fools will present the Tony and Pulitzer Award winning play in its Idaho premier, Wednesday, Oct. 17, through Sunday, Nov. 4, at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey.
Directed by Denise Simone, the cast is made up of Jana Arnold as Sister Aloysius, Chad Smith as Father Flynn, Richmond, Va. based actress Aly Wepplo as Sister James and Los Angeles based actress Michelle Carter as Mrs. Mueller. Set design is by Company of Fools production manager Joe Lavigne, and stage management by Kathy Ogilvie. Wepplo appeared this past summer in the Company of Fools production of "The Spitfire Grill." Carter is an old friend and colleague from Richmond, where Company of Fools was formerly based.
Shanley set his parable of doubt in a Catholic church in the fall of 1964. An old-school nun is confronted with suspicions of sexual misconduct at the St. Nicholas School where she is the principal.
Sister Aloysius clings to old ways. When she is told that the charismatic Father Flynn removed a boy from a classroom for a questionable period of time her set and steady world is shaken.
"Kennedy was assassinated the year before," Simone said. "Vatican II opened under Pope John XXIII. It was the Vietnam War. It was a rich period of change in the world. A woman of absolute certainty comes up against a priest who wants to move the church into a church for the people. Pope John said, 'Let's open the windows and the doors.' Shanley, in his preface, wrote that doubt takes much more energy but is an opportunity to reenter the present. 'Doubt is the thing that helps us to grow,' he says."
Setting in motion the events of the play, Sister James, a young novice nun, reports the alleged incident to Sister Aloysius. The boy happens to be the first and only black child at the St. Nicholas School, and his mother, Mrs. Mueller, is nearly as reticent and old fashioned as Sister Aloysius.
Arnold, an experienced stage and screen actress, prior to her move to the valley four years ago, is reveling in the character of Sister Aloysius.
"This part is the greatest challenge I've ever been up against as an actor," she said. "What do I know about being a Catholic nun? The first challenge was what do I have to know? She's as different from me in so many ways than any character I've ever done. We did a tremendous amount of research. Once you get a certain part you just play the emotions of the character. But I hung out with women who were in Catholic school. Theresa Gregory (of Our Lady of the Snows) kindly spent two hours with Chad, Denise and me, and was available for little questions. I also talked to Fritz Peters, the principal of the Wood River Middle School."
Despite her growing doubt about the incident, Sister Aloysius has an agenda to clear it up. She is determined to do the right thing in the only way she knows how, by referring to the church's teachings. Arnold describes her as steel.
"Her certainty propels her into ambiguous and uncharted territory," she said. "Doubt itself is an uncomfortable place to be. It rocks your world. Shanley looks at doubt as a source of strength. Are we brave enough to have convictions and then are we brave enough to doubt them? It's up to me to play the truth of her."
Simone calls the play a "brilliant piece of writing. You don't always come across a piece of writing or play that's written this well and is this engrossing and engaging. It won every single award in 2005, and there's a reason. It's streamlined. It catches you from the beginning, and it doesn't let go until the last line."
-Oct. 17- Nov. 4.
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m.
$25 adults, $18 seniors, $15 for students (18 and under).
· Pay What You Feel Preview Oct. 17. Nightly 10 seats for $10 each. Educator Nights (Oct. 18 & 19) and Family Day (Oct 21).
- Panel discussion: "What Do You Do When You're Not Sure? The Parable of Doubt."
8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25.
Open to everyone.
With religious leaders Rabbi Barney Brickner of the Wood River Jewish Community, the Rev. Ken Brannon of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, the Rev. Shawn Carty of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Teresa Gregory of Our Lady of the Snows, and Rev. John Moreland of Light on the Mountains Spiritual Center.
-Box Office: 110 North Main Street in Hailey. M-F, 9-5, 578-9122.