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Father Brendan Flynn starts off Doubt: A Parable with a sermon about doubt. It’s 1964 in the Bronx, and at St. Nicholas Church School they’ve just admitted their first student of color. Flynn’s reflective sermon is abstract and spiritual, of course, but it’s this creative imagining of what “doubt” really means which propels Lantern Theater Company’s production of the now-classic John Patrick Shanley tome. And even though doubt could be perceived as a dangerous force against religiosity and Catholicism, it’s a nun’s doubt about progressivism and Father Flynn that feeds Lantern’s vivid interpretation.

In some ways, this Tony- and Pulitzer Award-winning play from 2004 is about the sex abuse that has plagued Catholicism. When priests got accused of inappropriate touching en masse, that cultivated its own special kind of doubt: doubt in leadership you’d always been forced to revere, doubt in church figures you’d never suspect to be immoral, doubt in the system that you’d been processed through without ever asking difficult questions.

In the case of Ben Dibble’s Father Flynn, performed famously by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the 2008 film that garnered every major cast member an Oscar nomination, there’s a magnificently compelling doubt that Flynn is heterosexual. He’s affable, modern, loved by the boys at school and a charming basketball coach. In a scene where he comes out dribbling and gives a little basketball sermon about foul shots, he encourages his players to get loose and do a little dance at the line for the sake of not freezing up. When he shimmies his hips, my lavender alarm went off like a boxing ring bell. And when Sister James comes to Sister Aloysius Beauvier to tell her that she saw a look in Donald Muller’s eyes and smelled alcohol on his breath after returning from a visit to Father Flynn, the shit starts to hit the fan.

Sister Beauvier was stunningly portrayed by Meryl Streep in the film version, and Mary Martello hits the part right on the head here. The principal of the school but underling to men of the cloth, Beauvier is this incredible mix of powerful intimidation as a disciplinarian, school leader and staunch childhood education advocate. So even though Muller’s African American and Sister James thinks Flynn’s taken a liking to the boy to ensure his safety and success, the worried principal can’t let it go.

Cold is a word that Sister Beauvier’s often called. She’s strongly opposed to ballpoint pens and thinks everything should be written in cursive with ink. She resents Sister James’ reverence of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and tells her she needs to be more steely and severe with her students, as opposed to warm and enthusiastic. But even though Beauvier projects viciousness, it all seems to be with the best of intentions: the education and safety of her pupils. She reveals little pearls of wisdom reared from a life in a boy’s school and drops them at moments that are surprising and enriching.

Clare Mahoney does a great job as the seemingly mousey Sister James—Amy Adams’ character in the film—a skittish, earnest newbie with a penchant for history and Father Flynn. So she becomes this pulled-in-both-ways go-between and pawn in Sister Beauvier’s campaign to remove Flynn from St. Nicholas. The two sisters don’t always see eye to eye on the man, but it’s to Sister James that Beauvier finally admits that she has doubts, too.

What I wasn’t prepared for was Lisha McKoy’s performance as Donald Muller’s mom, the role from which Viola Davis knocked fire onscreen. When Sister Beauvier calls her in to pick her brain about Donald’s breath and his relationship with Father Flynn, a breathtaking confession comes: “He’s that way,” she says, her voice trembling. Her husband beat the hell out of him when the wine breath news hit, and his altar boy status was revoked–but Mrs. Muller isn’t sure that it’s really more about her husband’s fear that his son is a gay. It throws the play into a new orbit and complicates our perception of the entire work’s intentions. And it’s awesome.

“Looking back, it seems to me, in those schools at that time, we were an ageless unity,” writes the playwright in the playbook’s introduction. “We were all adults and we were all children. We had, like many animals, flocked together for warmth and safety. As a result, we were terribly vulnerable to anyone who chose to hunt us. When trust is the order of the day, predators are free to plunder. And plunder they did. As the ever widening Church scandals reveal, the hunters had a field day.” Powerful, no? And Flynn may or may not have been hunting—that’s one of the most magical things about this play. There’s doubt around every corner.

Through Sun., Feb. 15. $10-$56. Lantern Theater Company at St. Stephen’s Theater, 923 Ludlow St. 215.829.0395. lanterntheater.org

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