By Sarah Henning
Anchorage Daily News
In recent months as the Alaskan political scene has come to resemble a drawn-out episode of “Law and Order,” there are fewer plays more relevant than “Doubt.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play may follow the “he said, she said” drama of a priest accused of molesting a boy. But the play is a parable, teaching that absolutism is a dangerous path, and guilt is a difficult thing to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
Cyrano’s Theatre Company, led by veteran director Dick Reichman, opened “Doubt” Friday, marking its Anchorage premiere. Regardless of its imperfections, the production is compelling and a guaranteed tongue-wagger.
The play pits the prickly principal of St. Nicholas Catholic School, Sister Aloysius, against the affable Father Flynn. She accuses him of making advances toward a student. With each exchange, playwright John Patrick Shanley pushes the circumstantial evidence slightly against the priest, then slightly for him.
As with many of the roles she tackles, Bernie Blaine seems born to play Sister Aloysius. Blaine’s nun is a formidable, Olympic-qualifying scolder, righteous enough to open the gates of heaven with a withering glance.
But in Blaine’s hands, Sister Aloysius is not a caricature. The actress roots out the humanity hiding beneath those heavy yards of black fabric.
In one of many beautiful displays of skill, there is a moment when the nun prepares to confront Father Flynn. He sits at her desk, taking the position of authority.
Blaine’s face here is fluid as water. She’s clearly fighting to keep her irritation from showing, giving the audience the most subtle ripple of discontent, which is promptly replaced with a smile that’s just a touch insincere.
Without a doubt, Paul Brynner as Father Flynn is no match for Blaine’s nun. Although the priest is written as a likeable fellow, Brynner employed darting eyes, which made the character seem creepy and criminal, deflating some of the play’s wonderful “did-he-do-it” tension.
Brynner’s sermons were engaging. But they couldn’t make up for his one-note acting in the last scene. He yelled at the top of his lungs line after line until a few people in the audience tittered. Presenting anger and frustration on stage is so much more complex than simply turning up the volume.
The cast was fleshed out by two lovely performances. Krista Schwarting played Sister James, a nun caught in the middle of the controversy. Schwarting is appropriately flushed, flustered and wide-eyed, and she can stage cry with the best of ‘em. The consistently excellent Vivian Kinnaird takes on the small but demanding role of Mrs. Muller, the mother of the boy in question.
Is Sister Aloysius on a witch hunt? Or is she a courageous whistle blower?
Is Father Flynn a pedophile? Or is he merely giving extra help to a troubled boy?
“Doubt” doesn’t offer answers. But it does offer ethical insight, wisdom that should be welcome to Alaskans in this uncertain political climate.
If you go
“Doubt” runs at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 4 at Cyrano’s Off Center Playhouse 413 D St. Tickets cost $17.50. (263-2787, www.centertix.net)