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Never Doubt the Maltz

   Doubt is a peculiar emotion. When you have doubt boiling under your collar, it can manifest in so many ways: anger, fear, frustration, guilt, anxiety, pain. Doubt: A Parable, the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play by John Patrick Shanley, explores the complexities of doubt within an institution that prides itself on absolute belief, the Catholic Church.

   Set in the Bronx in 1964, Doubt follows three faculty members at St. Nicholas Catholic School. Sister Aloysius, St. Nicholas' cold and feared principal, has grown suspicious of Father Flynn, the fun-loving pastor. She believes (though she has no proof) that Father Flynn's intentions with his young, male students are far from pure. Enlisting the help of timid teacher Sister James, Sister Aloysius seeks to uncover the truth and eliminate the doubt.

   In the hands of the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, Doubt takes on new life. Having only attended oversized productions at the Maltz Jupiter, I was curious to see how director J. Barry Lewis would translate the play's subtleties. I should have known better than to doubt the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. Compassionate performances from the small cast fill the theatre with tangible vibrato. The practical set design–the aesthetics of which I doubted at first glance–folds into itself like a Russian Doll, tranforming into a pulpit, courtyard and principal's office as the play progresses. The sonic transitions from scene to scene are handled beautifully and guide the audience from one beat to the next. All of these elements combined produce an hour and a half of theater you won't soon forget.

Maureen Anderman and Jim Ballard perform in Doubt: A Parable. Photo by Alicia Donelan.

   With a cast of four, there's nowhere for an actor to hide. Doubt, comprised primarily of monologues and duets, could easily fall apart in the hands of less confident thespians. This cast, with the help of veteran Broadway actress Maureen Anderman, embraces the challenge with brute force.

   The play opens with Father Flynn delivering a sermon on–what else–doubt. When Jim Ballard uttered his first syllable as Father Flynn, I was overcome with doubt. Having grown up with a Queens-born mother and surrounded by heavy New York accents, I wasn't totally convinced by Ballard's Bronx brogue. Thankfully, my reservations subsided as Ballard relaxed into his role. His tender portrayal of a man stradding the line between demon and savior was breathtaking. Doubt's greatest strength lies in its ambiguity; very few questions are answered by the time the curtain falls. Ballard portrays the 'is he/isn't he' quality of his character with haunting sincerity.

   As Sister Aloysius, Maureen Anderman is the cornerstone of the production. Her posture alone tells you everything you need to know about her character. Hunched and wary, Anderson pulsates from mark to mark, always with purpose, always with suspicion. Her stature reflects the weight of her deep tenderness for her students, even if that tenderness is something she never speaks of aloud. Julie Kleiner's naive portrayal of Sister James pops against Anderman's strong and stoic characterization. The dichotomies between these two women, bound together by religion, add a new texture to this great drama.

  Doubt is a heavy piece of theater. The 90-minute production, though sprinkled with funny moments, touches upon some serious issues. It's not for everyone. Despite this trait, the combination of a magnificant cast and the stellar technical production I've come to expect from the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, makes Doubt the strongest production in what has been a very strong season for the theatre. Without a doubt, you don't want to miss it.

Doubt: A Parable runs at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre through February 17. To purchase tickets visit jupitertheatre.org.


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