Arts & Entertainment

Play review: 'Doubt' a definite must-see

The main thing I came away from this play with was that I didn't expect the laughs. Nor did I expect the low turnout.

I assumed it was going to be a serious subject, maybe even depressing, but admired The Richland Players for their brave choice. But make no mistake -- Doubt has a wonderful mixture of comedy and drama.

Doubt is set in 1964 at a Catholic school and church in the Bronx. A young priest, played by Geoff Elliott, may or may not have had inappropriate contact with a student.

Though this is a subject society has dealt with too frequently today, this play shows that in the early '60s, the abuse was beginning to be exposed.

An older nun is suspicious of the priest and attempts to become an ally of a younger nun who is the student's teacher in order to confirm her suspicions. Barbara Wilson and Christina Humann play the nuns.

To add another dimension to the play, the student in question is black. His mother, played by Jessica Ballard, brings a dubious perspective to a repugnant situation; her character is perhaps the most difficult to watch, and yet perhaps the easiest to understand.

Abuse and racism are difficult subjects. The audience gets no clue from the characters as to what the "truth" is. Do we put our faith in the likeable character -- the priest -- or rely on the unlikeable one -- the elder harsh nun -- to be our champion for truth? Is there a network that will protect the young priest, but not the elder nun?

The two nuns represent the past versus the future, both in education and within their Catholic order. Added to that is the question as to whether the ends ever justify the means. Is the elder nun overzealous or intuitive? Is she right to insist the younger nun keep her distance from her students? Is the younger nun being manipulated by the priest, the elder nun or both?

All four characters seem to keep at the back of their thoughts the loss of opportunity these situations represent. We see each one stumble as they face their loss of innocence when denial would be more comfortable.

There are many questions and not many answers.

Director Ellicia Mertens won't be in the Tri-Cities for long -- that's my prediction. Her résumé is already an impressive read. She's been positively affected by two of the area's finer teachers: Matt Leggett and Ginny Quinley. Richland Players stalwarts Ingrid Gosselin and Mary Rowe do a great job of co-producing.

There are only four characters in the play and the actors give exceptional performances. Wilson is a talented actor and handles the drama and comedy of the script with experienced ease. Elliott is easy to believe in this complex and convoluted role.

Humann gives voice to the innocence and righteousness that lives somewhere deep in all of us. Ballard acts with simplicity and conviction.

There weren't many people in the audience the night I attended. Maybe the play sounds too offensive, inflammatory or confrontational. But, like I said, I laughed. However, I'd have to say the laughs were more about our humanity than disrespect of a serious subject.

Do I recommend this play? Absolutely. It's challenging and entertaining -- not an easy feat.

*Karen Bertsch is an advocate of theater arts. She is the office manager for Ashley-Bertsch Group in Kennewick.