Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 5, 2015


Theatre Guild of Hampden, Hampden, MA
through October 11, 2015
by Stuart W. Gamble

“What do you do when you’re not sure?” is a question posed to the audience/parishioners by Father Flynn (Heath Verill) at the beginning of John Patrick Shanley’s drama “Doubt.” And for the next 80 minutes (there is no intermission), the audience, like a trial jury, must uncover the truth, however elusive it may be.
Presiding over this “court” is the icily stern Sister Aloysius (Jeanne Wysocki), principal of St. Nicholas Catholic School in the Bronx, whose strict orthodoxy excludes art and dance, both of which she believes are a waste of time. She even says that “Frosty the Snowman should be banned from the airwaves” for its promotion of magic. Her interrogations of the gentle, idealistic Sister James (KK Walulak), a history teacher at the school, and her obsession to “bring him (Flynn) down,” form the central story line in “Doubt.

The Theatre Guild of Hampden’s production of “Doubt” is assuredly directed by TGH Artistic Director Mark Giza. This production is notable for its simplicity, and its ability to provoke audience thought. The simple central set consists of two chairs, a desk, a small table with religious icons, and a bust of JFK. The billowy, white curtains and folk guitar strands of “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace” lend gentle contrast to the darker elements of the play.

“Doubt” is uniformly well acted by a competent cast. Verrill’s affability and Wysoki’s puritanical nun in their fierce battle of wills, come off best. Walulak, and Diane Flynn as a student’s troubled mother, lend sincere support to the principle characters.

Set in 1964, during the height of the Cold War, “Doubt, A Parable” (the play’s full title), when uncertainty and winds of ideological change were blowing about, Shanley’s literate drama presents its audience with a disturbing situation without simple solutions.