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Award-winning 'Doubt' to make Utah premiere

Play will elicit many audience questions, guest director says

John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning drama "Doubt" has its Utah premiere this week in Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre on the University of Utah campus.

Guest-director Martin Platt — who previously directed PTC's "To Kill a Mockingbird" 12 years ago — is no stranger to "Doubt." He directed the European premiere of the drama in Vienna, Austria, last year. One of that cast's performers — Shannon Koob — is also in Utah, reprising her role of young nun/teacher Sister James.

Platt said by phone that while "Doubt" is a one-act play, "The 'second act' is the audience after the play ends. The audience is in the same predicament that the nuns are in. We want answers to all the questions, and here's a play that asks a lot of questions and doesn't answer any of them."

So be prepared for some interesting discussions en route home or over post-play dessert.

The setting for "Doubt" is a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964, where a priest may — or may not — be involved in an inappropriate relationship with one of the school's students.

"It's a pretty amazing play," said Platt. "It's very funny and very moving. It covers all the bases and deals with a lot of issues that we all deal with in life. It's not just about the Catholic Church. There are issues that we all have."

Although the controversy about pedophilia among Catholic priests has been a hot topic for the past several years, "Doubt" is not just about alleged sexual abuses. "Shanley was brought up as Catholic, but he is no longer practicing. In 'Doubt,' the nuns have seen or suspected things, but because of the hierarchy, there is no one to go to."

The drama's time-frame — 1964 — was when the Catholic Church was going through a major change with the Second Vatican Council, not long after President John F. Kennedy's assassination.

"Doubt" was first seen as a Manhattan Theatre Club production in an intimate off-Broadway venue, then was transferred to the 947-seat Walter Kerr Theatre — a space not much different than Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre.

The production has a small cast, just four players.

Greta Lambert will play Sister Aloysius, a hard-nosed disciplinarian, a nun from the "old school" who insists that students not be coddled.

Jeff Talbott is Father Flynn, the school's charismatic parish priest. He believes that the clergy should be more accessible to the parish and be considered "as members of their family."

Their contrasting viewpoints set the stage for a verbal battle of the titans when Aloysius suspects that Flynn is involved with inappropriate behavior with a young African-American student, Donald Muller (who is talked about but never seen).

Tamela Aldridge, seen last season as Rheba in PTC's "You Can't Take It With You," plays Mrs. Muller, the student's mother, who adds yet another perspective to the equation when she's brought to the school to discuss the sensitive situation.

Rounding out the ensemble is Koob as Sister James, an inexperienced but enthusiastic young nun, who may have some insights into the Flynn-Muller dealings.

Platt notes that "Doubt" is "really about the broader situation of what happens anywhere in life where the structure of the organization forbids you to take action. That could be the military, the church or a totalitarian government — anywhere you're not allowed to doubt things, which is the broader thing that Shanley is dealing with in this play."

If you go . . .

What: "Doubt"

Where: Pioneer Theatre Company

When: Friday through Nov. 27

How much: $21-$39

Phone: 581-6961