Samantha Smith, Letty Richey and Leah Van Horn tackle suspicion, race, religion and power in the dynamic production | Photo provided

Doubt: A Parable has been flooring audiences for almost two decades and stands as an essential modern classic in the theatrical canon. The 2004 play claimed the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and its 2008 film adaptation was nominated for four Academy Awards. Now the venerated classic is again being brought to the stage by the Queen Street Playhouse in a production that runs through Feb. 20.

Doubt follows a high-stakes battle of wills at a Catholic school in the fall of 1964. Sister Aloysius is rigidly conservative and constantly vigilant. This puts her at odds with Father Flynn, the progressive and well-liked parish priest. The young Sister James, new to the school and still very naive, lets slip that Father Flynn had a private meeting with the only Black boy at the school. Sister Aloysius’ suspicions turn to accusations that rock everyone’s lives.

“It’s funny because, although it was written in 2004 and takes place in 1964, both long before the advent of social media, it still has a relevancy that is surprisingly of the moment in the era of  ‘cancel culture’ where an accusation made with mere suspicion and no evidence can completely derail someone’s reputation and career, whether it is proven accurate or not,” said Kyle Barnette, who directs this newest production. 

“Doubt is a powerful motivator and this play is so brilliantly written that it allows the audience to see and feel that doubt, or uncertainty, from the perspectives of both Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn as well as Mrs. Muller and Sister James … all four of these characters have their own motivations and all experience their own forms of doubt throughout the show.”

The four  actors charged with bringing playwright John Patrick Shanley’s opus to life are Samantha Smith as Sister Aloysius, Andrew Murano as Father Flynn, Leah Van Horn as Sister James and Letty Richey as Mrs. Muller. These are some of the most demanding, challenging roles ever written, and the cast are not approaching it lightly.

“It’s funny because I do have empathy for her,” Smith said. “The words on the page are not empathetic to the people she is talking to, but I think it’s figuring out what drives her and knowing that she is working within the constraints of the hierarchy of the church.”

Smith, who has been working with Footlight Players since coming to Charleston in the 1990s, said she tried not to judge the harsh and unrelenting character, but rather empathize with her core beliefs. “I believe that she really does look out for the children, that she is doing her best to look out for their welfare. So that is what’s kind of driven me.”

Leah Van Horn is the youngest member of the cast and a senior at the College of Charleston, fresh off a production of David Lee Nelson’s A Sudden Spontaneous Event. She finds herself relating a lot to Sister James. 

“I connected to Sister James a lot in that growing up, I was always a very naive person, and I always liked to see both sides of an argument,” Van Horn said. “I had to really hone back into a lot of naive optimism for the role. I think that was probably the hardest part.”

Andrew Murano’s challenge is to walk a narrow tightrope with Father Flynn, neither making him clearly innocent nor guilty of his accusations. The New York transplant seems up to the task. “I think that’s where the play’s strength really is,” Murano said. “Has this guy really done something horrible or is he just totally misunderstood and a victim of this woman’s accusations?”

Letty Richey has the most to do in the shortest amount of time. Mrs. Muller appears in only one scene, but it’s one of the most important and powerful in all of the show. And much of the show hinges on it. “Without Mrs. Muller, where would the real level of doubt come from?” asked Richey about her role’s impact on the show. Richey acknowledges that the role presents a lot of nuances to bring forward. 

It’s been 14 years since the film version, and almost as long since the last Charleston production of Doubt. That means there’s a whole new audience that has the opportunity to see this masterpiece. There are members of this cast who hadn’t seen or read the show before joining this production and there will be many audience members who will know the show well. Barnette and company are ready to bring their own touches to Doubt.

“I would say the biggest challenge is making sure to let the text do the work,” he said. “It is so carefully constructed and beautifully crafted that it allows a viewer to experience all the perspectives of the characters from the accuser’s to the accused. It really is a clever guessing game wrapped up in a serious drama and the challenge is not to give into the temptation to guide the audience to their own conclusion.”

Barnette and the cast and crew are bringing a production that focuses on the text and performances, inviting the audience to get swept up in the argument. And what an argument it is. Running for four weeks at the Queen Street Playhouse, there’s little doubt this show should be on your radar.

Doubt opened at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 4, with shows through Feb. 20. Head to FootlightPlayers.net for more information on tickets.


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