On the face of it, the 90-minute four-actor drama set at a Bronx Catholic school in 1964 is a domestic drama about nuns, priests, parents, teachers and teaching. The plot point about a priest's supposed inappropriate behavior with a student has kept audiences guessing, but it's the metaphors that rise out of the situation that have prompted critics to buzz for months, fueling talk of Tony Awards and even the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
As it pits an old-school disciplinarian nun (Cherry Jones) against a younger vulnerable nun (Heather Goldenhersh) and a charming priest (Brían F. O'Byrne), the play's keywords might be "suspicion," "lies," "crime," "guilt," "blame," "gossip." Doug Hughes (Frozen) directs the subtle staging.
With no evidence, Sr. Aloysius, the elder nun, begins a campaign to rid her school of the priest. Is she doing it because their styles clash? After all, she is conservative and he is liberal. Or is it about crushing a true threat?
Some have said the play is the perfect piece of fiction writing in the age of George W. Bush: A leader decides there is a threat to the system and make a bold charge to root out the threat, even though the threat may not be real — and the charge turns out to be groundless. Or is it groundless?
The audience is left to determine what is what, who was wrong, and who is damaged by the experience. Was it a witch hunt? Was the priest hunting the boy? How do you define a campaign of terror? In one of two sermons spoken by O'Bryne's Father Flynn, the idea of gossip is pointedly brought up. Gossip, he says, is like a slashed pillow on a rooftop. Once its feathery contents are on the wind, they cannot be taken back.
Adriane Lenox plays a harried mother who is told her son may be the victim of the priest — and she has a surprise to tell the nun.
Doubt received its premiere Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club on Nov. 3, 2004. It opened Nov. 23 and quickly won the approval of the critics, as well as an extension.
Hughes directed O'Byrne to a Tony Award (and himself to a Tony nomination) in last season's Frozen.
Cherry Jones' long Broadway career goes back to 1987's Stepping Out. She won a Tony Award for The Heiress and nominations for Our Country's Good and A Moon for the Misbegotten. Her Off Broadway resume is even longer, including such plays as The Baltimore Waltz, Desdemona, Flesh and Blood, Pride's Crossing, Goodnight Desdemona/Goodmorning Juliet and And Baby Makes Seven.
The production is a rare, non-musical credit for Lenox, whose assignments have included Caroline, or Change, Kiss Me Kate and The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm. For Goldenhersh (Last Dance, The Underpants, Goodnight Children, Everywhere), meanwhile, Doubt represents her Broadway debut, playing Sister James, who is used as a kind of battleground for the priest and elder nun.
This is the first time a work by the prolific Shanley (Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Beggars in the House of Plenty, Four Dogs and a Bone "Moonstruck") has been seen on Broadway.
The performance schedule is Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, and Sunday at 3 PM.