No ‘Doubt’ about it: Stoneham production shines

 Karen MacDonald (Sister Aloysius), Kathryn Myles (Sister James), and Gabriel Kuttner (Father Flynn) in the Stoneham Theatre's "Doubt: A Parable.". Photo credit: Mark S. Howard.

Karen MacDonald (Sister Aloysius), Kathryn Myles (Sister James), and Gabriel Kuttner (Father Flynn) in the Stoneham Theatre’s “Doubt: A Parable.”. Photo credit: Mark S. Howard.

STONEHAM — There are those who see things in black and white, even when gray would be appropriate.
And certainty — in the face of obvious gray areas — has its costs.
Playwright John Patrick Shanley shows us just how in “Doubt: A Parable,” now at the Stoneham Theatre through Sept. 28.
John Patrick Shanley won a Pulitzer Prize for his tale about Sister Aloysius, the principal at the St. Nicholas School in the Bronx in 1964, who suspects a priest of taking more than a pastoral interest in a student at the school.
It is a battle of wills between her and the priest, Father Flynn (Gabriel Kuttner) whose
sermon at the beginning of the play about doubt and moral certainty sets the stage for what is to come.
This “Doubt” boasts an excellent cast, headed by Karen MacDonald as Sister Aloysius.
MacDonald, a longtime mainstay of the American Repertory Theatre who has graced other stages in recent years, recently made her Broadway debut in “The Glass Menagarie,” when she went on as the understudy in the place of star Cherry Jones. Here she plays a role that was originated on Broadway by — Cherry Jones — and she makes it her own.
MacDonald as Sister Aloysius has a take-no-prisoners style, believing the welfare of all 373 students at the school is her responsibility, and resenting any intrusion on her control.
She brings inexperienced young teacher Sister James (Kathryn Myles) to tears with her blunt critiques and dismisses the chances of some of her students to accomplish anything in life.
Father Flynn threatens her domain in many ways, including taking an interest in the only black student in school — Donald Muller — who seemingly has no other friends and is isolated.
Muller works with the priest as an altar server, and Sister James’ suspicions are aroused when she determines that the boy had returned from a meeting with Father Flynn with alcohol on his breath.
The odor, says the priest, came from sacramental wine the boy had drunk, and the nun and the priest are at odds over the discipline meted out to him for the incident.
Sister Aloysius resents the fact the priest has longish fingernails and even that he takes three sugars in his tea. Are these things enough to cloud her judgment?
Miranada Craigwell as Mrs. Muller has only one scene, but what a scene it is, as she struggles to protect her son from whatever might have happened at the school, and from Sister Aloysius’ investigation, which threatens to open a can of worms that might result in even more hurt for the young boy.
“Leave my son out of this,” she pleads to the nun, saying her husband could kill her son if what she suspected proved true.
The script requires Kuttner as the priest to be a bit understated, laid-back and deferential at the outset, but when Kuttner learns of Sister Aloysius’ endgame, he becomes a raging inferno in defense of his reputation, his priesthood, his very life.
Soon, “verbal guns will be drawn.”
Director Caitlin Lowans steadily ratchets up the intensity to the boiling point, and the audience is the beneficiary.
And if it comes to pass that you start the play with doubt, the end result may be that there will still be doubt at the end. And it will be up to you — just as you read differing accounts in a newspaper story or hear them during a trial — to determine what really happened.
The Stoneham Theatre production of “Doubt: A Parable.“ through September 28 at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham. Written by John Patrick Shanley, Directed by Caitlin Lowans, Scenic Design by JiYoung Han, Costume Design by Rachel Padula-Shufelt, Lighting Design by Chris Fournier, Sound Design by David Reiffel; Props Master, Elizabeth Rocha; Production Stage Manager, Rachel Policare Box Office 781-279-2200 or