An Immaculately Faithful Production of Shanley’s Masterwork

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BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act!

Philipstown Depot Theatre and GoJo Clan Productions Present
DOUBT: A PARABLE
by John Patrick Shanley
With Julia Boyes, Dawn Brown-Berenson, Robin Gorn, Duane Rutter
Directed by Ed Friedman
Julia LaVerde, Stage Manager
Duane Rutter, Technical Director (Lighting, Sound, Video Design)
Evan Schweikhart, Light/Sound Board Operator

Through December 16, 2018
Philipstown Depot Theatre
Garrison Landing
Garrison, New York 10524

Order Tickets Online
$25 General; $20 Students + Seniors

[NOTE: The author of this review is a paid marketing consultant for GoJo Clan Productions who regularly reviews local theater.]

‘The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.’
Ann Lamott, based on Paul Tillich

There’s a general assumption in these parts that the best way to see dynamic live theater is by traveling to Manhattan. That notion is being disproven in dramatic fashion right now at Philipstown Depot Theatre in Garrison Landing (Putnam County).

That’s where I strongly recommend you go to catch one of the three remaining performances this weekend of GoJo Clan Productions’ scintillating staging of “Doubt: A Parable.” 

Depot is a jewel of a theater (as well as a historic landmark) that is ideally suited to both contain and amplify the tight, tension-filled, eloquent, elegant moments that make this John Patrick Shanley prize-winning play a modern classic.  

Robin Gorn (r) as Sister Aloysius asks Duane Rutter (Father Flynn) what he’s jotting down in his little book.

We are witness to a high-pitched battle of wit and will where the stakes on each side reach up to the heavens. Acting like an advocate on the side of the angels, as if appointed by St. Peter himself, is Sister Aloysius (Robin Gorn). She’s a stoic, hidebound catholic school principal in the Bronx in the early 1960s.

Sister Aloysius seethes at the sight of a ballpoint pen being used instead of a fountain pen. To her disciplinarian’s mind, the modern writing instrument might as well be the devil’s trident.

Caught like trapped prey in her cross-hairs is progressive priest Father Flynn (Duane Rutter). His solicitous relationship with Donald Muller, the school’s first black student, has Sister Aloysius high on her haunches, suspicious as (excuse the expression) hell.

Caught between the pair’s battle royale is callow young nun Sister James (Julia Boyes) and Donald Muller’s mother (Dawn Brown-Berenson).

Video is projected above the stage to supplement the live action below it.

All of the actors are on point in bringing their complex characters to vibrant, theatrical life. It is a gift to audiences to feel the emotional pulse that courses through the actors’ instruments and touches us even if we’re seated in the last row.

Undoubtedly, the gravitas that pulls all the pieces and people together is Sister Aloysius, who is in just about every scene, and, thanks to the bravura acting of Robin Gorn, just about dominates every scene. That is until Dawn Brown-Berenson enters the picture and fairly shocks the sister with her attitude about her son Donald’s alleged predicament.

The two actors infuse this high point in the play with the kind of sparks we attend the theater to hopefully experience. They deliver the goods first class.

Julia Boyes is fitfully timid and poignantly vulnerable as Sister James, who emerges from her shell gradually and with grace.

Father Flynn (Duane Rutter) shares his concerns about allegations against him with Sister James (Julia Boyes).

As charismatic Father Brendan Flynn, Duane Rutter deftly threads the needle by being highly likable while also conveying a teetering over-confidence that suspicious souls like the Sister are certain is hiding something unholy.

The high-caliber acting and masterly direction of Ed Friedman add up to a transcendent and fast-moving 90 minutes (without intermission).

This show is airborne from the first scene, and even before then. Wrapping epochal context around the action about to unfold is a moving montage of video clips capturing the zeitgeist of the ’60s — from the assassinations and race riots to Dylan, The Beatles, and Vietnam. Cleverly crafted by multi-talented Duane Rutter, it is projected above the stage and used sparingly but effectively during the play as well.

Any familiarity with this powerful play is most likely based on the film version starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. That’s quite an all-star lineup, to be sure, but the natural habitat for “Doubt” is in live performance, as this impactful production impressively proves.   

That’s a testament to its immaculately skilled author, John Patrick Shanley, whose four flesh-and-blood characters and and muscular narrative justly anointed him with the Pulitzer Prize for drama and Tony Award for Best Play.

I don’t doubt Mr. Shanley himself would express admiration for this faithful, finely-tuned realization of his timeless masterwork.


Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at bruce@aparpr.co or 914.275.6887.

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