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FALL ARTS PREVIEW / THEATER

A new room for `Doubt'

September 10, 2006|Charles McNulty | Times Staff Writer

THERE was a time a play would routinely come along that literate, culturally attuned adults wouldn't dream of skipping. The glut of modern media possibilities has made this something of a rarity today, though John Patrick Shanley's "Doubt" managed to achieve must-see status during its feted Broadway run last year.

Whether it will do so again when the national tour kicks off at the Ahmanson Theatre on Sept. 22 is still to be decided. But the production has much in its favor, including two Tony winners from the original cast, Cherry Jones and Adriane Lenox, as well as the directorial hand of Doug Hughes, who also won a Tony.

Capturing nearly every best play award in 2005 (including the Pulitzer), "Doubt" represented a return to the spotlight for Shanley, best known for his Oscar-winning 1987 screenplay, "Moonstruck."

Don't expect another romantic comedy served like a jug of quaffable Chianti. Though leavened with crackling wit, "Doubt" is a taut drama of ideas posing as mystery, a detective tale determined to expose flaws in ethical reasoning.

Reprising one of the most critically acclaimed stage performances of the last decade, Jones stars as Sister Aloysius, a no-nonsense Catholic school administrator who suspects a priest has committed an unpardonable sin with one of the middle-school boys.

Set in the Bronx in 1964, the play is less concerned with the scandals that have recently rocked the Roman Catholic Church than the ways in which its characters tolerate moral ambiguity, uncertainty and contradiction. Complicating matters is the admiration shown for Father Brendan Flynn (Chris McGarry), the object of the sister's suspicions and a devoted teacher and coach.

Shanley tangles his web further by making the possible victim the school's first African American pupil. Lenox plays the boy's mother, a woman whose priority is getting a decent education for her son, not getting caught in the crossfire of accusations that could send her kid back to a substandard inner-city school.

Aware that truth is never one-dimensional, "Doubt" finds the heated drama in healthy skepticism.

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