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Acclaimed play 'Doubt' comes to Winchester

By Josette Keelor - jkeelor@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER - The upcoming play at Winchester Little Theatre sets the scene, unfolds the drama and leaves the audience in wonder in the short span of about 80 minutes.

"Doubt, a Parable," by John Patrick Shanley, has earned a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award for Best Play and, for the 2008 film version, five Oscar nominations. Beginning Friday it will light up the stage at WLT.

"Like a parable, the play is brief and to the point," says director M. Scott Wood, but "it is so tightly written, the script."

After seeing the play performed on Broadway about four years ago, he knew he wanted to bring it to Winchester.

"I thought it was very, very well-written," he says.

"Doubt," which takes place in 1964, tells the story of the iron-fisted principal of a Catholic school in the Bronx, Sister Aloysius, who suspects the new, progressive priest of abusing his authority.

The four cast members -- Lori Staley, Kevin Selwyn, Lindsey Mitchell and Shaunbay Pendleton -- are all new to the stage at WLT.

Mitchell's character, Sister James, finds herself in the middle of a battle of wills between Sister Aloysius, played by Staley, and Father Flynn, played by Selwyn.

"She's a fairly young, naive nun," Mitchell says of her character. "Her dreams are kind of crushed when her superior, Sister Aloysius, tells her she is not doing a good enough job as a teacher.

"Her spirit is kind of broken, in a way," Mitchell says.

The play takes place in the midst of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, says Staley, when the Catholic Church took steps to modernize.

The new priest, Father Flynn, unintentionally threatens the sister's sense of order and tradition by supporting the changes happening in the church.

"The character thinks in very black and white," says Staley, a Woodstock resident. "She is not happy with the changes."

"My character is just all for it," says Selwyn, a senior at Shenandoah Conservatory. Father Flynn feels that "we should be friendly, that children and parents should see us as part of the family."

Sister Aloysius prefers to remain aloof and strict; her primary concern is the school and the safety of its pupils, not how many people like her.

When Father Flynn begins to take an interest in the lone black student in the Catholic school, the truth of his motivations becomes much more uncertain. Sister Aloysius believes he is having inappropriate relations with the child; Father Flynn believes he has done nothing wrong, and Sister James does not know who to believe.

The fourth character is the black student's mother, Mrs. Muller, played by Pendleton, of Edinburg. Also caught up in the argument, Mrs. Muller just wants her child to stay in the school, no matter who is telling the truth.

"She's willing to sacrifice whatever she has to," even at the expense of her son's welfare, Pendleton says. Complicating the process is the fact that her character does not understand the motivations of Sister Aloysius.

"For me, I'm only in one scene. I don't know why she's pinpointing my son," Pendleton says. Mrs. Muller feels that Sister Aloysius is viewing the students as statistics rather than individuals."

"She does what she feels she has to do to protect children in her school," says Staley.

"She does not care," Pendleton says. "You can't disprove her."

The play is performed in one act without an intermission, and though it is mostly drama, it does offer some lighter moments.

"The play is one of my favorite plays of all time," Mitchell says. "There's not one word in the play that isn't important."

Selwyn remembers reading that the film version's cast -- Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis -- feels that the play actually offers two acts. "The first act is us performing it for you, and the second act is you going home and thinking about it," Selwyn repeats from the interview he saw online.

Because each of the actors is new to the stage at WLT, each brings something unique to "Doubt" and to the theater. Mitchell and Selwyn come from Shenandoah Conservatory, and Staley and Pendleton have performed at Wayside Theatre in Middletown.

"It's fun to be surrounded by people who love what they do," says Selwyn.

"They just worry about making good theater," Pendleton says of WLT. "And that's what this play is all about. It's just good, healthy theater."

John Patrick Shanley's "Doubt" begins at Winchester Little Theatre at 315 W. Boscawen St. on Friday and runs through Jan. 17. Show times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For tickets or more information, call the box office Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. at 662-3331, or visit the Web at www.wltonline.org.


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