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Doubt: A Parable Let's the Light into the Darkness

by Aimee Ferenz


Content Warning: This show, and therefore this review, contains complex material including mention of the assault of a child and religious trauma. 


When first arriving at the Masquerade Theater’s production of Doubt: A Parable, I did not know anything about it. I had seen a few production photos, both of this cast and of the new Broadway revival, but the rarity of going into a show completely fresh was too good to pass up. Doubt: A Parable is a one act following a few members of the staff of (fictional) St. Nicholas Parish and Catholic School in the Bronx, NY in 1964.  It follows these four: Sister Aloysius, the principal of the school; Sister James, a new teacher who has Donald Muller in her class; Father Brendan Flynn, a beloved and progressive Parish Priest, and Donald’s mother, Mrs. Muller. Sister James notices Donald return to class (not seen) acting strange and scared after spending time alone with Father Flynn. Sister James notifies her superior, Mother Aloysius, who comes to the conclusion that father Flynn is forming an inappropriate relationship with Donald. The sisters schedule a meeting with the Priest who adamantly refuses the relationship. Sister Aloysius then schedules a meeting with Donald’s mother to discuss the risk to her son. 


The Masquerade Theater is based in a refurbished office space, existing in the same building as carpet storage and a cocoa processing plant. Throughout the building, you can catch the faint sweet smell of chocolate which can give you a craving for the concession stand. Because of the original building design, plenty of work has been put in to make the space warm and inviting. The black box has 3 entrances throughout the audience that are used by the cast to make an immersive experience. The only concern that I have with this venue is that we could occasionally hear people talking outside of the room, presumably the people not currently on stage. I believe that this is largely due to the need for curtains instead of doors, as every entrance to the room was used by the cast members. 


The pacing of the show, directed by Courtney Bundens, is exceptional as it allows a well timed silence to carry insurmountable weight. The production staff, also a powerhouse of 4, does an excellent job bringing this show to life in a minimalist yet powerful way. Megan Knowlton Balne (Artistic Director) and Tommy Balne (Managing Director/Lights) are not only the founders of the company, but act as active members in the stage crew. Props and set were simple yet perfectly effective in the space given. Costumes, by Rebecca Sisley, were simple yet effective by capturing small details between the characters that embody who they are at their core. Together, they produce an emotionally dense show with much needed grace. 


These performers are a masterclass on acting “between the lines”. So much of the plot is left unsaid due to the sensational script that mirrors how assault is often discussed in real life. I was consistently floored by the nuance in acting style between these four. In particular, the relationship between Sisters Aloysius and James goes through a complete cycle, blooming and decaying throughout the 90 minute act. Their interactions with Father Flynn contain a minute emotional game closely tied to that of speaking with a narcissist. Flynn manipulates Sister James and tricks her with intoxicating charm, even getting the audience to experience the same doubt that the characters are feeling. Each actor in this show is riveting and deserves a sold out show every night. 


Susan Paschkes (Sister Aloysius Beauvier) provides a tour de force performance as the principal of St. Nicholas Parish. She is cold and distant from the other characters just as she is said to be with the students of her school, striking fear into the hearts of all who encounter her. The delivery of her sarcastic lines shows the dryness of a tenured educator and injects a desperately needed piece of humor to this story. With a character like this, it can be difficult to show any warmth through the walls of a protected heart, but Paschkes triumphs with unparalleled skill. Paschkes is an immense talent who shows a desperate need to do the right thing, even if she is the only one who believes in what that might be.


Sister Aloysius’ counterpart, Sister James, is played by the incomparable Noelle McLeer. McLeer cultivates a character whose sweetened innocence becomes a catalyst for her own change, whether it be for better or worse. Something incredible about McLeer’s performance is her ability to breathe light and joy into her characters. Even further, she is able to dim the light of her very soul to show the tarnishing of her character’s innocence. Her willingness to accept Father Flynn’s manipulation shows the character’s desperate need for simplicity. 


Stephen Kreal (Father Brendan Flynn) is confronted with an extremely difficult task. He is given lengthy sermons that he recites in the exact idiolect of a man of the cloth, bringing home the risk that this story could happen anywhere. Playing an antagonist with such charisma and personality, while understanding what he may have done, shows Kreal’s theatrical mastery. Father Flynn also brings out his incredible range, going from a charming father figure and friend to a manipulative, violent monster. He excels in making everyone, including the audience, doubt what it is that they truly know. 


Desiree Lara (Mrs. Muller) shocks the audience with her depiction of the unseen boy’s mother. Lara goes from a caring mother to a woman who is willing to throw her child to the wolves. All that we know about this character is from this one scene and yet, Lara is able to flesh out Mrs. Muller completely. We can see the hardship that she has gone through as a person of color in 1964 and the pain of a woman who has an abusive husband. Lara shows more of the war within Mrs. Muller in a single scene than many can do in an entire show.


All of this to say that I was amazed by the skill on the Masquerade stage. Their slogan is “exploring the humanity beneath the masque”, which I believe is perfectly fitting for a show like Doubt. The cast sews the seeds of doubt in the audience through riveting performances by the full ensemble. This quaint theater is home to outstanding performers and I am excited to see what they are able to do next. Doubt: A Parable runs from March 8th to March 16th with tickets available at https://www.masqueradetheatre.org/show-experiences/doubt2023 




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