On Theater: 'Doubt' draws out rich performances

Conflict in dramatic literature usually involves a "right" and a "wrong" with the script usually tilted toward the "good guys." In his acclaimed drama, playwright John Patrick Shanley leaves ample room for "Doubt."

In this finely crafted and deeply involving production, now on stage at Golden West College, a priest is suspected by a stern nun, principal of the parochial school, of molesting a young boy, the only African American child in his parish, this being 1964. He vehemently denies it; she, even more determined, vows to report him and, if nothing else, damage his reputation.

Director Tom Amen, in his last outing before a year's sabbatical, has mounted a superb interpretation of this morally challenging play, eliciting outstanding performances not only from the priest and the principal but also from the two supporting female roles, a nervous young nun and the boy's troubled mother.

Because of these richly defined portrayals, "Doubt" likely will divide its audiences, which appears to be the playwright's intent. Both sides are given strong conviction by a pair of superb performers.

As Sister Aloysius, the grim, no-nonsense principal, Jill Cary Martin is rock-solid in her insistence that the priest is morally corrupt and should be removed. Martin creates a fearsome figure, with an accent falling somewhere between her Bronx school and Boston, who rules her scholastic fiefdom with an iron hand and presses fiercely forward with scant evidence to support her claim.

Lawrence Hemingway enacts the charismatic priest with a flair and fervor of a wrongly accused and outraged man who's genuinely concerned for the boy's welfare. Outwardly, he's a paragon of virtue and there's little in his interpretation to suggest guilt, which leaves the audience to its own conclusions.

The young, naive nun, supportive of the priest but quaking before the principal, is beautifully presented by Camille Lacey, whose character finally discovers her own determination. It's a subservient role as written, but Lacey unearths its clarity and substance.

We eventually meet the boy's mother, sincerely portrayed by Rikki Taylor, who offers a surprising and poignant stance in the matter. Taylor details the violence of the boy's father and the child's hidden shame in sobering detail.

The combination church-school office-garden setting, skillfully created by Sigrid Hammer Wolf, who also designed the pinpoint lighting effects, offers an impressive backdrop. And the eerie sound effects by Dave Mickey add a compelling final atmospheric touch to this most involving production.

See "Doubt" with an open mind and draw your own conclusions. It's a superior drama, splendidly performed and directed at Golden West College.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Independent.

If You Go

What: "Doubt"

Where: Golden West College Mainstage Theater

When: Closing performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $10 to $12

Information: (714) 895-8150

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