Doubt--A Moral Dilemma

            John Patrick Shanley subtitles "Doubt"-"A Parable" and with his explorations of a series of moral dilemmas, it lives up to both title and subtitle. This 2004 Broadway hit earned both the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award.
            Currently running at Ross Valley Players, Doubt is set at St. Nicholas, a Catholic church and school in the Bronx, New York in 1964.  Doubt is so economical in Shanley's writing that it is pared down to perfection, presenting a problem and then offering potential solutions, every one of which creates its own difficulties. 
            The major clash is between Chris Macomber as Sister Aloysius, a dragon of an old school principal and Jamie Dawson as Father Flynn, a young modernizing priest.  As such, they represent traditional Catholicism and a new brand of religion that seeks to assimilate ideas that some might regard as doctrinally unacceptable, such as Frosty the Snowman. 
            The play opens in front of a wonderful set designed by Ken Rowland that swiftly takes us between scenes. Father Flynn is delivering a sermon about life's uncertainties that in his way is packed with parables. He says, "Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty."  This acts as a kind of prologue to the investigation of doubt that is to follow.
            Sister Aloysius' unwilling partner in uncovering crime is the sweet, natural and innocent Sister James played by Shannon O'Neill Creighton.   Having been bullied as a too good and generous teacher, she intimates knowledge of a misdeed.  This might not have mattered had the victim not been the school's only black pupil.  Immediately with religious fervor, Sister Aloysius' begins a campaign to unseat and defrock a man who quickly becomes her enemy.  Her justification in doing so is no more than a gut feeling she has about him.  Soon enough, that topical subject, child abuse by a Catholic priest is in sharp focus and a battle rages between these two representatives of religion.
            Added depth is offered by the boy's mother, played convincingly by Clara Kamunde (who was given a special round of applause on opening night).  This cowed lady's only concern is for her son's future and when he reveals his true nature, we learn his father beats him and her desire is to brush any problems under the carpet.  This is not the Sister's way though.  Sister Aloysius eventually proves to her own satisfaction that a mortal sin has taken place. However, the ending offers a surprise.
            Chris Macomber is at the top of her form playing the unforgiving nun who runs her school like a totalitarian state.  Jamie Dawson, with a wonderful Bronx accent, is perfectly cast as the affable priest struggling to save his reputation.  His nuanced performance shows him as a priest determined not to be just a spiritual leader, but also friend and confidant.  Shannon O'Neill Creighton as Sister James is easily the play's most likable character because of her appealing performance. 
            As directed by Cris Cassell, Doubt works well because she brings out the hidden depths of the play and offers us complete ambiguity in the ending.
            Doubt runs through Sunday, February 13 at Ross Valley Players, the Barn, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. (at Lagunitas), Ross. Performances are held Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets, call the Box Office at 415-456-9555 or go online at
            Flora Lynn Isaacson