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Flawed ‘Doubt’ always entertaining

John Patrick Shanley’s 2005 “Doubt: A Parable” is one of the more intriguing dramas of the decade, and it’s getting a solid production at Las Vegas Little Theatre.

The three leads — Valerie Carpenter Bernstein as the determined Sister Aloysius; Darren Weller as the well-spoken Father Flynn, who may or may not be involved in the sexual abuse of a child student; and Penni Mendez, as the young, naive but eager-to-learn Sister James — have acting abilities that go beyond what we usually see in typical local theater. They create realistic characters that help us believe we are in the middle of a 1964 New York Catholic school crisis in which a boy’s future may be at stake.

Director Walter Niejadlik and cast communicate the uncertainty of the situation. As the title suggests, it’s not easy to figure out the right thing to do. Bernstein comes across at first as a petty, domineering nuisance; but as the play progresses, you realize she’s dedicated to doing what’s best for children who don’t have the power and street knowledge that she does. Weller projects such likability that the charges against him feel absurd. The facts of the case keep deepening so that you may find yourself frequently changing sides.

Unfortunately, all is not well with this production. Bernstein is sometimes riveting, but her performance feels like an impersonation. The talented Kawanda Smith, as the troubled boy’s mother, doesn’t viscerally convey her character’s motivations; and considering the surprising attitude the mother takes toward the situation, her motivations need clarity. The blocking is often awkward, with actors’ illogical movements seemingly designed strictly for audience visibility.

Ron Lindblom’s set — complete with stained-glass windows, passageways with medieval arches, and a towering statue of the Virgin Mary — is spectacular and right; perhaps his finest work after many years at Las Vegas Little Theatre. Ginny Adams frames the drama with multiple sources of somber light that help you feel the sacred environment. And Niejadlik’s sound — filling blackouts with sounds of noisy children and school bells, and a garden with the chirps of a crow — adds a strong sense of ambiance.

The show doesn’t quite hit the mark, but it’s always entertaining. And it gives you plenty to think about on the way home.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

 

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