Just when you thought you’d already seen it often enough, along comes a superlative production of “DOUBT”.
The remarkable Westchester Playhouse (“remarkable” for its longevity in a rather off-the-beaten-track location AND for the quality of the work currently on display) has assembled a first-rate cast and a solid director for this well-known piece by John Patrick Shanley.
I freely admit that I had my own “doubts” about attending a play I’d already seen twice fairly recently – first, the Cherry Jones-led production at the Ahmanson (a venue that overwhelmed the play, unfortunately) and then Meryl Streep’s film version, for which Viola Davis won her Oscar. Never having read any reviews of prior plays at the Westchester, I was prepared for…well, an amateur show at best. Boy, was I in for a surprise!
Joanna Churgin, she of the fabulous character face, makes the most of the non-doubting, malicious Sister Aloysius. This is a delicious role, infused with touches of dry humor that Churgin milks to perfection.
Opening the play from his pulpit with a brilliant sermon is MATT LANDIG as Boston-Irish Father Flynn. His good nature is sorely tested by the bitter schoolmistress, Sister Aloyisius, whose underhanded accusations of something unspeakable render him increasingly angry, yet he is unwilling to surrender. Landig is not only sympathetic and believable, he has perfected the difficult Boston-Irish accent, for which he credits assistance from well-known dialect coach, Larry Moss.
Aiding and abetting, mostly against her will and better judgment, is HEATHER BARRETT as the naive young teacher, Sister James. My only quibble with this performance, and it’s a minor one, trust me, is that I kept wishing Barrett would drop her pitch a half-octave or so. That aside, she put in a completely professional performance.
Rounding out this excellent cast is JACQUELIN SCHOFIELD, as Mrs. Muller, the strong-willed and overly protective mother of the young boy at the center of the tragedy. Fresh off a critically praised run of “The Color Purple” at the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood, Schofield’s performance garnered the biggest round of applause as she exited the stage, following her only scene. She grabbed on to her character’s ferocity, built it slowly and let loose with a staggering climax. Watch out, Viola Davis. You have real competition now!
Director GAIL BERNARDI knows her stuff and kept the action moving forward from start to final curtain.
The Westchester Playhouse is easy to find, comfortable and friendly. I, for one, will be back, if “Doubt” is any example of the work they put forth.
“Doubt” ends August 18, 2012. For ticket information: (310) 645-5156
– K. Malone