COURTESY MANOA VALLEY THEATRE
A conniving nun (Jo Pruden) finds a nemesis in a popular parish priest (Russell Motter) in "Doubt."
Now, let us prey
The priest might be guilty, but there is little "Doubt" regarding the nun
Innocent or guilty? There was no question in my mind after the Jan. 16 performance of Manoa Valley Theatre's production of "Doubt" that, beyond doubt, the character of Father Brendan Flynn had a history of homosexual relationships with Catholic school boys.
On stage: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 3
Place: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Road
Tickets: $25 ($20 for seniors and military: $15 for those 25 and under)
Call: 988-6131 or on line at manoavalleytheatre.com
But when I talked with other members of the audience, I discovered that they saw Father Flynn as the victim of a vicious witch -- er, pedophile -- hunt, waged by a malevolent nun who hated him for irrational personal or doctrinal reasons.
"Doubt," it would seem, is an appropriate title for John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer- and Tony -winning drama after all.
And there's no doubt whatsoever that MVT's production is excellent and brought to life by a superb cast.
The story takes place at a Catholic church and school in the Bronx. The year is 1964, several decades before concerns about pedophilia in the church became a public issue.
Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the hard-as-nails principal of the school, summons Sister James to her office, and after a subtle but brutally effective attack on the younger nun's self-confidence, primes her to be on the lookout for signs that there might be something inappropriate in the way that Father Flynn, the young pastor of the parish, pals around with the school boys.
Acting on her superior's instructions and determined to show that she's gotten the message, Sister James is soon able to report several things that seem to confirm Sister Aloysius' suspicions. However, when Sister Aloysius lures Father Flynn to her office, supposedly to discuss plans for the next Christmas program, he has a convincing explanation for everything -- and says he can provide witnesses as well.
That's not enough for Sister Aloysius. Convinced that everyone will lie to protect Father Flynn, that the boy in question will deny everything, and that the Catholic hierarchy won't believe her, she vows to "bring him down" by any means necessary.
Jo Pruden has played hard-boiled nuns before, and has excelled at playing acerbic tart-tongued women for years, but she draws on something darker here in her role of Sister Aloysius. While many will agree that extremism in the pursuit of pedophiles is no vice, it's hard to make common cause with someone who believes that children should fear priests and nuns, and that "Frosty the Snowman" encourages "a pagan belief in magic."
Russell Motter makes a welcome return to the local stage with his magnificent performance as the suspect priest. His character personifies the directives of the Second Vatican Council. Father Flynn coaches basketball, chides the boys about keeping their nails clean, and invites them over to the rectory for soft drinks and cookies.
Motter is memorable, whether as Flynn sharing nondenominational insights at the pulpit or revealing the secret to making a free throw in basketball.
Melanie Garcia is instantly likable as the innocent young nun who struggles to preserve her "joy of teaching" as Sister James subordinates herself to the head sister's demands.
Anette Kauahikaua completes the cast with a powerful performance as the mother of the boy Father Flynn might have "interfered with." Kauahikaua makes the mother's concerns and priorities utterly believable.