BENNINGTON, Vt. -- John Patrick Shanley's compelling drama, "Doubt," which is being given a serviceable, workmanlike production at Oldcastle Theatre Company, is set at a small Catholic church and school in the Bronx, New York in 1964.
Beyond the school / church grounds, the world is in dramatic upheaval. But the tidy school / church campus is a testament to stability, centuries-old doctirne and practice within a spiritually and administratively cloistered atmosphere run by men.
The school is in the hands of its fiftysomething principal, Sister Aloysius (Christine Decker), an unsentimental practical woman of deep, unyielding faith and principle whose judgment and good sense often put her at odds, albeit silently, with the male higher-ups in her parish. Her faith is her rock; the church hierarchy her frustration, especially when it is brought to her attention by a trusting ingenuous nun in her 20s, Sister James (Meredith Meurs), that something untoward, unholy, may have happened between the school's first and only black student, Donald Muller, and a popular priest in his 30s, Father Flynn (an acceptable Tim Dugan), who has become something of a cult figure among the boys he coaches in basketball.
Based purely on circumstantial information and conjecture, Sister Aloysius makes it her mission to have Father Flynn removed but, surrounded as she is by an old boys network, she is uncertain just how to proceed. Even her talk with the boy's mother (Nehassaiu deGannes, who virtually intones all her lines) moves in a direction Sister Aloysius hardly anticipates.
Shanley cannily tilts his dramatic deck in no conclusive direction. Events play out in a way that allows us to believe Father Flynn is as culpable as Aloysius believes him to be as much as it is reasonable to believe Flynn is as innocent as he claims.
Oldcastle's production unfolds in a generally efficient, even-handed manner that captures the play's intellectual / philosophical arguments without catching the play's richly fueled dramatic fire.