In 'Doubt', truths hide in plain white light

Monday June 25, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Having struck oil last summer with its debut production of John Patrick Shanley's "Four Dogs and a Bone," Berkshire Act ors Theatre is doubling up on Shanley this summer -- a revival of "Four Dogs " with last summer's superb cast intact, joined in repertory by Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Doubt," which opened over the weekend at Berkshire Museum where BAT has settled in for its sophomore season.

Ironies abound, not the least of them that "Doubt," a vastly superior play to the self-indulgent "Four Dogs and a Bone," has the less self-assured and accomplished production. Where "Four Dogs and a Bone," which reopens July 2, crackles, "Doubt" barely stokes its embers.

While Berkshire Museum's auditorium is an accommodating space for theater audiences, the technical limitations of the venue are intrusive. Nowhere are those limitations more evident than in Nate Wiessner's lighting which comes at the actors full front, without shading or nuance, casting distracting shadows against the rear walls. And while Wiessner has done the best he can to focus on the individual playing areas comprising Brian Prather's set, it's not enough. There is still too much spillover.

Flat, unshaded lighting and imprecise definition turn out to be emblematic of director Brad Berridge's monochromatic production as a whole, which features a well-cast Peggy Pharr Wilson as Sister Aloysius, a streetwise, judgmental, unyielding principal of a Catholic school in the Bronx, who suspects that a popular priest in the parish and teacher in her school, Father Flynn (a somewhat loud and one-dimensional Patrick White), has molested a young boy -- the school's first black student -- during a private meeting with the youth at school.


Shanley's writing is shrewd, potent and skillfully engineered. The truth of Sister Aloysius' suspicions is in constant doubt and it's that very uncertainty that shapes the play's moral and dramatic arguments.

But the palpable force of the play's emotional and dramatic turns, its purposefully shifting currents and eddies don't resonate in the erratically timed, insistent, one-dimensional performances on the Berkshire Museum stage. We are left with a series of missed opportunities, especially with Wilson, who is perfectly suited for the role and who has some potent moments that, unfortunately, do not gather into a whole -- undermined by hesitancy, uncertainty, awkward pauses in her rhythms and a distractingly bold accent that is a little bit Bronx, a little bit Southie Boston.


All the performances, in fact, from White's charmless, forced Father Flynn to Alika Hope's emotionally monotoned Mrs. Muller and Clover Bell-Devaney's unpersuasively ingenuous, older-than-one-might-prefer Sister James come at us full on, striking one-dimensional notes from the get-go that don't then modulate. What we see of Shanley's characters in this production is what we get. "Doubt" is more, much more, than depictions of attitude. All that flat white light, it turns out, reveals nothing.

To reach Jeffrey Borak:,
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On Twitter: @BE_Theater


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