SHOW: DOUBT, A PARABLE
CAST: FIONA RAMSAY, Janna Ramos-Violente, James MacEwan, MWENYA KABWE
DIRECTOR: JAMES CUNINGHAM
VENUE: AUTO & GENERAL THEATRE ON THE SQUARE, SANDTON, UNTIL AUGUST 15
REVIEWER: PETER FELDMAN
Fiona Ramsay must be one of the busiest actresses in the country at the moment, morphing seamlessly into different persona, from ‘Miss Dietrich Regrets’ to ‘Doubt, A Parable’. Her next assignment is the upcoming Craig Higginson drama, ‘Imagined Land,’ which will also be staged at this intimate theatre later this month.
Interestingly enough the talented Janna Ramos- Violente has also been featured in the same plays. Having already seen the first two productions, I can say that Ramos-Violente provides the perfect partner.
I first saw John Patrick’s Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize winning play many years ago in Johannesburg with Sandra Prinsloo in the lead as the bitter, unrelenting Sister Aloysius. The movie had Meryl Streep in this challenging and profoundly provocative role and now, on stage again, we see Ramsay getting to grips with a complicated and complex character.
The play, set in 1964, a year after the Kennedy assassination rocked a nation, is based on a few circumstantial details and a lot of assumption which unfolds at St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx.
Sister Aloysius Beauvier is an ultra-stern and dominating individual who is firmly of the opinion that a priest, Father Flynn( James MacEwan), has done something inappropriate to one of the students – a 12-year-old altar boy named Donald Muller, the school’s only African-American student.
She recruits a young, naive nun Sister James (Ramos-Violente) to help her in monitoring the suspicious yet charismatic Father Flynn and what unfolds here is a truly riveting indictment not only of the manner in which Sister Aloysius runs her school, but her own deeply buried prejudices.
The wordplay is excellent and Shanley’s framing of the incident is brought vividly home by James Cuningham’s sensitive and probing direction, helped along by a strong cast.
A de-glamourised Ramsay again shows her acting mettle and it’s a joy to watch her slip so effortlessly beneath the character’s skin and render such a faultless display of malice and guile.
A counterpoint is Ramos-Violente’s commanding interpretation of a nun who has been manipulated by her superior and who tries to make amends.
In the role of the unfortunate Father Flynn (a role played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie) is MacEwan, trying bravely to defend himself of the ‘crime’ of which he has been accused.
The fourth factor is the boy’s mother, played by Mwenya Kabwe, who is called into the principal’s office about her son, and her tirade against the educational system of the time is reminiscent of South Africa’s own racial divide.
‘Doubt, A Parable’ remains a remarkable and absorbing work, splendidly executed by a first-rate cast.
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