On stage at Jamison Theatre in the Factory at Franklin for from February 15-25, Studio Tenn’s production of Doubt: A Parable continues the company’s stellar record of presenting Broadway-worthy productions from a small, but top-notch cast and careful, precise direction to gorgeous set and lighting design.
Written by John Patrick Shanley, Doubt presents the story of a stern nun who suspects her priest of inappropriate sexual behavior with a young male student at their Bronx parish school in the early 1960s. Doubt debuted off-Broadway in 2004, transferring to Broadway a year later and winning four Tony Awards. A broader audience was reached in a few years later when the play was adapted for the big screen in 2008, starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis.
Brent Maddox, a familiar face at Studio Tenn, having recently starred as Mr. Tumnus in the company’s spectacular holiday offering, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, as well as several other Studio Tenn shows, stars as Father Flynn, the priest upon whom a shadow of doubt is cast. As one would expect from a young priest in the Bronx, Maddox’s Father Flynn is instantly likable. Even so, there’s a feeling that something troubling is indeed brewing.
In this production, Sister Aloysius, the aforementioned staunch nun is brilliantly brought to life by Marguerite Lowell, one of the company’s early acting members. In addition to numerous shows with Studio Tenn, Lowell has an extensive resume including London’s prestigious West End and Broadway. Having never seen the stage production, with my only true reference for Sister Aloysius being Streep’s film portrayal, I was immediately struck at Lowell’s ability to present the character with humor. Just being in the audience with Lowell on stage is a master-class in acting and a thrill to behold.
Emily Langham, recently seen in Nashville Rep’s Sense and Sensibility, but no stranger to Studio Tenn, having appeared in their productions of The Miracle Worker and Steel Magnolias, stars as Sister James, a young nun still new to the order and therefore still filled with optimism and hope. As Sister Jane, Langham does a wonderful job of reminding Lowell’s Sister Aloysius of perhaps her younger, more trusting self, although Sister Aloysius might see it as naivety. Her scenes with Maddox’s Father Flynn nicely humanize the characters beyond their vestments.
Rounding out the cast, and dare I say it, stealing the only scene she’s in is Aleta Myles as Mrs. Muller, the mother of the boy with whom Father Flynn is accused of acting inappropriately. A newcomer to Studio Tenn, but not the Nashville theatre community, Myles has previous been seen in shows at Street Theatre Company, Nashville Rep, Nashville Children’s Theatre, Tennessee Theatre Women’s Project and others.
Matt Logan, Studio Tenn’s Artistic Director, whose sets I frequently say I could live in, has appropriately toned-down Doubt’s understated but fantastically affective and effective set. Consisting simply of a single set in which the audience is privy to Sister Aloysius’ office on a sturdy wooden platform, below that, bookending the set on either side is a large tree leafless from winter’s harsh reality. At the base of each tree, a couple of small shrubs struggling to live in the cold environment. Each and every aspect of this set seems thoroughly thought-out and rich with symbolism. It would appear no coincidence that Sister Aloysius’ office is set about three feet above the rest of the stage, for she indeed seems to sit in judgement of Father Flynn as she addresses her suspicions. The trees on either side of the set seem to represent our two leads, one older, feeling threatened by the youthfulness not only of the priest she suspects of wrong-doing, but perhaps by the perkiness of the younger nun. Even the shrubs can be seen as symbolic. One scene even has Sister Aloysius, in a rare gentle moment, covering each shrub with burlap and twine to protect them from the elements, just as she feels she’s exposing Father Flynn’s potential wrong-doing to protect the church and the children.
On the subject of the children, it’s interesting to note that with a cast of only four actors, the much-talked about children, even the young boy at the center of the play’s controversy, are never seen. There’s one scene in which Father Flynn is coaching the boys, but much like his congregation, he plays this scene toward the audience as they double for his young charges.
The playwright’s written words are in completely loving hands with director Nat McIntyre who does a wonderful job enhancing the element of doubt. It’s no coincidence that, depending on the level of doubt at various times during the play, McIntyre has directed Maddox’s Father Flynn to sometimes be physically closer to the audience/his parishioners. At first he’s standing on the floor of the theatre mere feet away from front row, as the play progresses and Sister Aloysius’ seeds of doubt are planted, with each sermon, he moves a bit further away and his priestly garb seems less casual and more official. Subtle pieces of the puzzle, but important ones.
As alluded to above, also elevating the doubt of Father Flynn’s guilt, comes an honest, tear-inducing confession if you will from Myles’ Mrs. Muller. What she reveals to Sister Aloysius, and the way Myles plays the scene is simply magnificent. Bold and shocking for the time the play is set, Myles’ material portrayal within the context of Doubt should be required viewing for every parent. As I said above, for me, she absolutely stole the show in her one blissful scene.
Studio Tenn’s Doubt wrapped it’s all-too-brief two week with a final performance Sunday, February 25. Up next at Jamison Theatre, Studio Tenn presents what promises to be an unforgettable mounting of one of musical theatre’s most beloved shows, Grease. With real-life marrieds…and former American Idol favorites…Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young headlining as Sandy and Danny, and a cast peppered with some of Studio Tenn’s favorite, you know it’s gonna be good. Click Here for tickets to Studio Tenn’s GREASE. You can always find out the latest news from Studio Tenn by following them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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