“Doubt: A Parable,” the play that won John Patrick Shanley a Pulitzer and a Tony, is centered on a conflict as nebulous as its title suggests: In 1964, a no-nonsense nun with nothing to go on but circumstantial evidence and her intuition accuses a beloved priest of improprieties with a 12-year-old boy.
As staged by Andrews Living Arts Studio in Fort Lauderdale, the production is just as hard to pin down, with whole scenes starting out strong, or having a solid center, before evaporating their dramatic hold on us like melodramatic mist.
It’s maddening, because there are flashes of good theater here.
For example, Lory Reyes is slow in ramping up the role of Sister Aloyious Beauvier, the rigid nun who is eager to pounce on any wisp of a challenge to her vigilance as head of a Bronx church school. In her early scenes, the dialogue comes out of her as if she’s thought it all out, rehearsed it carefully rather than listening carefully, even skillfully, for any minuscule factoid that might justify her deep mistrust of her students, her clergymen, her everything. Then, in later scenes, her furrowed brow and hands held stiffly to her side do little to hide the seething anger, as her words come spilling out, volcanic if not a superbly controlled lava flow.
Her nemesis, Father Brendan Flynn, played by Edward Otto Zielke, does just fine delivering his sermons — alone, center stage and taking his time to let the words sink in. But when he has to spar with Sister Beauvier, his voice rises from a comfortable baritone to a screechy tenor, and his eyes go dead, as if he’s trying to remember lines rather than arm himself against a frontal assault.
Support comes from Yanina Aranes as Sister James, whose slip ignites the play, and Shani Louis as Mrs. Muller, whose son is not only the first African-American student to enroll in the school but the troubled youth whom Sister Beauvier believed Father Flynn took advantage of. They are both fine, Aranes registering visible discomfort as the noose tightens, and Louis’ eyes showing the hurt and exhaustion when she reveals her unhappy home life. Conversely, they are also both prone to “actorly” inorganic stretches, falling back and relying on technique when their characters — momentarily — leave them.
In between all that, there is some clunky blocking and less-than-graceful scene changes, leaving this production of “Doubt: A Parable” a bit of a mixed blessing.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. matinees Sundays through Feb. 23
Where: Andrews Living Arts Studio, 23 NW Fifth St., Fort Lauderdale (F.A.T. Village)
Cost: $24.95 for adults, $21.95 for seniors, $16.95 for students with ID
Contact: 800-838-3006 or AndrewsLivingArts.com