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Doubt: A Parable

A book by John Patrick Shanley

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Gripping and thought-provoking: ripped from the headlines.

  • May 10, 2013
  • by
Sometimes a media blitzkrieg on a particular issue, in this case, the unraveling clergy sex scandal within the Catholic Church, can be so over dominant to the extreme that the genuine horror of its totality and those directly and indirectly affected, can regrettably seem like an unreality, a movie scene where human detachment is at its strongest. Where the media oftentimes fails to evoke a mood of empathy and personal involvement to what they are reporting--as they are covering facts--art, particulary dramtic art of the theatre, can bring into sharper focus the finer points of a tragedy or evil that those who are especially hardened and jaded by cynicism or total desensitization can not fully bring to the forefront, no matter how hard they try. And where journalists have sometimes failed in the telling of the humanness of the clergy sex scandal-and I specifically mean the victims-John Patrick Shanley has unundoubtedly succeeded, for Doubt, though very short, is quite powerful in its telling and the message it conveys: complete blind submissiveness and ignoring gut instincts--no matter how far fetched--is never a good thing, irrelevant if one is in a church environment or not. Doubt, in general, is a very healthy and normal thing to have, especially in this day and age. Unfortunately, it took the church sex scandal to starkly illustrate that point. In Doubt, the setting is a Catholic church in New York, specifically the Bronx, the time frame being the early to mid sixties. The characters are Father Brendan Flynn (the accused), Sister Aloysius Beauvier (the accuser), Sister James (the witness) and Mrs. Muller (the victim's mother). Sister James, an idealistic nun of the order of the Sisters of Charity, loves history and the teaching of it to students, especially receptive ones. Sister Aloysius has lived life, seen much and knows when to be sceptical. Though she is older and wiser, she is faith filled and dogmatically principled to even the most minute detail of Catholic thology:

Sister James: Oh, but everyone loves the Christmas pagent.

Sister Aloysius: I don't love it. Frankly it offends me. Last year the girl playing Our Lady was wearing lipstick. I was waiting in the wings for that little jade.

And then there is Father Brendan Flynn, rather happy-go-lucky with an initial attitude of dismissive cordiality, the one on 'easy street' who commands respect because of the Roman collar around his neck or so he has firmly convinced himself. However, when Sister James bears witness to an event and the aftereffects upon one of her students--Donald Muller--she brings the matter to Sister Aloysius, who despite concrete proof, knows full well what is going on and conducts an investigation that, bit-by-bit, bears disturbing fruit. Though Sister James is desperate for excuses, Sister Aloysius is unyielding in her doubt, especially the pragmatic explainations offered by Father Flynn. What he has to say is not good enough, and she goes beyond the rigid hierarchal structure for the greater good:

Sister Aloysius: I did not speak to the pastor. I spoke to one of the nuns.

Flynn: You should've spoken to the pastor.

Sister Aloysius: I spoke to a nun.

Flynn: That's not the proper route for you to have taken, Sister! The Church is very clear. You're supposed to go through the pastor.

Sister Aloysius: Why? Do you have an understanding, you and he? Father Flynn, you have a history.

Doubt is a definite parable, because there is a mythical and supernatural aura to the Catholic Church, an aura that can occasionally get lost within itself--as history has clearly proven--and thereby spread, unintentionally, errors to a wider audience. But as in the case of Sister Aloysius, it took her intuition and pitbull doggedness to cut through the convoluted self-righteousness in order that goodness could prevail. What Doubt will hopefully do is restore some degree of dialogue and trust, because for every bad apple there is indeed a large abundance of good holy priests who yearn to serve with humility, respect, compassion and mercy.
Gripping and thought-provoking: ripped from the headlines.

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More Doubt: A Parable reviews
review by . March 14, 2010
The odds are long that you have seen either in a movie theater or via DVD the lauded 2008 feature film, DOUBT, starring Meryl Streep as 50-something Sister Aloysius Beauvier. To the nuns in her small Bronx convent  and to  others who teach in the Catholic parish school, Sister Aloysius is the Principal.       She confronts late 30s, working class, articulate, popular Father Brendan Flynn, the parish's assistant pastor, with her worries that he is improperly interested …
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“A superb new drama written by John Patrick Shanley. It is an inspired study in moral uncertainty with the compellingly certain structure of an old-fashioned detective drama. Even as Doubt holds your conscious attention as an intelligently measured debate play, it sends off stealth charges that go deeper emotionally. One of the year’s ten best.”—Ben Brantley, The New York Times

“[The] #1 show of the year. How splendid it feels to be trusted with such passionate, exquisite ambiguity unlike anything we have seen from this prolific playwright so far. Blunt yet subtle, manipulative but full of empathy for all sides, the play is set in 1964 but could not be more timely. Doubt is a lean, potent drama . . . passionate, exquisite, important, and engrossing.”—Linda Winer, Newsday

Chosen as the best play of the year by over 10 newspapers and magazines, Doubt is set in a Bronx Catholic school in 1964, where a strong-minded woman wrestles with conscience and uncertainty as she is faced with concerns about one of her male colleagues. This new play by John Patrick Shanley—the Bronx-born-and-bred playwright and Academy Award-winning author of Moonstruck—dramatizes issues straight from today’s headlines within a world re-created with knowing detail and a judicious eye. After a stunning, sold-out production at Manhattan Theatre Club, the play has transferred to Broadway.

John Patrick Shanley is the author of numerous plays, ...

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