DOUBT John Patrick Shanleys Catholic thriller opens as Father Flynn (Chris McGarry) delivers a riveting sermon in which he proclaims doubt to be as strong a bond between individuals as faith. In fact, suspicion, mistrust and uncertainty are the fuel of this drama, set in 1964 at St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx. Based on some telling circumstantial evidence, the elementary schools principal, Sister Aloysius (Cherry Jones) knows just knows that the charismatic priest is molesting boys in the rectory. (If Fr. Flynn embraces the liberal Vatican Council II, the vinegary Str. Aloysius comfort zone lies somewhere between the first and second Nicaean councils.) She sets out to prove her charges against him to a young nun, Sister James (Lisa Joyce), who in a way represents the clueless public of the time. The play is structured as a detective story (Aloysius is Miss Marple in a habit) and works best on that level. Its a taut, 90-minute work without intermission but, seen the second time, also seems a smaller play than when first viewed. Although this is the Tony-winning Doug Hughes-directed production (Jones reprises her role, as does Adriane Lenox as the mother of an African-American boy allegedly assaulted by Fr. Flynn), I found last years Pasadena Playhouse version, with Linda Hunt as Aloysius and directed by Claudia Weill, to have been a crisper and more coherent telling and a production more in touch in with the scripts gothic atmosphere. AHMANSON THEATRE, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 29 (no eve perfs Oct. 5 & 29; added perf Oct. 26, 2 p.m.). (213) 628-2772 or www.centertheatregroup.org.
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