Monday, February 11, 2013

Maltz Jupiter Theatre: Doubt (reviews)

The Maltz Jupiter Theatre opened its production of John Patrick Shanley's Doubt: a Parable on February 3, 2013.
When a priest’s relationship with an altar boy is questioned, a nun takes matters into her own hands to prove it. In this brilliant Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, the nun becomes intent on exposing his dark secret and the mystery unfolds. But are his actions innocent? This story will leave you questioning your own faith and the cost of the pursuit of truth.
J. Barry Lewis directed a cast that featured Maureen Anderman, Julie Kleiner, Jim Ballard, and Karen Stephens.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
...the Maltz production under J. Barry Lewis’ direction merits being seen for three finely-crafted performances by Maureen Anderman, Jim Ballard and Julie Kleiner, plus an outstanding portrait by Karen Stephens.

But thematically, it’s thrown out of whack because the deck seems stacked toward one truth for much of the play and then irreversibly stacked the other way. Few people will leave this production indecisive about the priest’s guilt or innocence. That misstep undercuts the point of the play and turns it into a cautionary tale about the dangers of certainty rather than the conundrum of uncertainty.

On the other hand, this is the kind of play and production in which that fine-tuned calibration can change nightly. What I saw may not be what you see the next night. Heck, so much of this is perceptual and susceptible to personal baggage that what I saw may not even be what the fella across the aisle saw the same night.
That said, this team has mounted an insightful thought-provoking production highlighted by Lewis’ trademark of leading an earnest cast through an excavation of every moment, peeling back layers of meaning in Shanley’s script and then skillfully communicating their findings to the audience.

Anderman unreservedly dives straight into Sister Aloysius’ flawed nature, portraying someone who cares not a whit about being liked, caring only about being an effective instrument for the greater good, no matter the cost to herself or anyone else. She submerges herself in Sister Aloysius’ severity in both appearance and affect.
Ballard is a fine actor whose underrated work as the beleaguered husband in Mosaic Theatre’s Side Effects and whose portrayal of the anguished man in Dramaworks in All My Sons were essential to the successes of both shows. Here, his linchpin performance is the one that needs more shading and ambiguity, but he makes a solid adversary for Anderman.
Kleiner works hard to bring plausibility to the young woman who says, “I want peace of mind” in a terrified tone that it will never come again. She makes it clear that Sister James could not have imagined two authority figures actually being in conflict.
All three are solid, but it’s Stephens’ performance in just one scene that turns on the light switch. Lewis has kept a lid on the emotional intensity through the production up to this point, perhaps because Sister Aloysius must proceed gingerly. But the electricity starts flowing from Stephens’ appearance and on through the rest of the play. Stephens inhabits a stunningly pragmatic character whose decisions on paper are seemingly indefensible, yet she makes the woman’s internal logic absolutely convincing.
In this ever-mutating 21st Century world in which many people seem to require certitude in every facet of their belief system, regardless of contravening facts, the Maltz production raises questions about unyielding convictions.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
See John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt: A Parable at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre and you may well walk back to your car wondering: Is Father Brendan Flynn one of those priests?
Staged by J. Barry Lewis, the excellent Maltz production has just a two-week run — which is too bad. Even at the show’s first performance, the power of this play and the cast was undeniable.
Kleiner’s sweet, naive, overly emotional Sister James becomes the audience proxy in the clash between the priest and the nun... The Broadway-tested Anderman conveys steely resolve, yet her wonderfully expressive face betrays a wild array of emotions: anger, craftiness, triumph, repulsion. Ballard is just as formidable, a man aware of his power and the ingratiating effect of the well-timed smile.

As always, the Maltz’s physical production is first-rate. Set designer Timothy Mackabee gives Sister Aloysius an office with just-right ‘60s details, from the cinderblock walls and silvery radiator to the photographs of Pope Paul VI and President John F. Kennedy. Paul Black’s lighting design suggests the play’s wintertime setting. Anna Hillbery supplies the nuns’ Sisters of Charity habits, the priest’s cassock and vestments, and a dress-up ensemble with hat and gloves for Mrs. Muller to wear on her visit to the school. Marty Mets’ sound design, particularly the tonally varied “ping” of bells, is lovely.
Doubt: a Parable plays at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre through February 17, 2013.

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