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A&E: 'Doubt' convinces at Indiana Rep.

January 21, 2008

Perhaps the most remarkable achievement of John Patrick Shanley's play "Doubt" (now playing at the Indiana Repertory Theatre), is how quickly it transcends its hot-button issue. Yes, this is a show built around the suspected despicable actions of a parish priest, but it's really not about that.

It's about, as its title bluntly states, doubt. And it's about certainty. And it's about faith.

And it's a show I'd love to see again, since I suspect the show will get even richer as the run continues. Plus, there's a lot to absorb from this deceptively simple piece.

Priscilla Lindsay plays Sister Aloysius, the taskmaster principal of a parish school in 1964. Her suspicions about priest Father Flynn plant a seed of doubt in teacher Sister James, who-seeing the world through the Aloysius filter-questions Flynn's alone-time with the school's only black student. Dominos fall from there.

We never see the student, but later in this 90-minute, intermissionless play, we do meet his mother (Dwandra Nickole). Her lone scene is when this production begins to find its heat. Up until then, the show, while compelling enough, doesn't quite-emphasis on quite-find its stride. Part of that may well be the challenges of staging an intimate show such as this on a large, beautiful set. Time spent raising and lowering the desk through a trap door and sliding nonessential set pieces in and out slow the momentum. Distancing, unnatural performances by Lenny Von Dohlen and Cora Vander Broek also contribute to the less-than-it-could-be urgency of the show. IRT regular Lindsay pretty much carries the first half-and in a solid, detailed performance, is well capable of bearing the load.

The arrival of the boy's mother complicates the situation considerably. If the show had been written 20 years ago, she would probably have been the voice of reason, spouting wisdom at every turn. Here, though, Mrs. Muller is a well-rounded character who has made a disturbing peace of her own with the situation. Nickole, an assistant professor of theater at Ball State, handles the challenging part with distinction.

This show is being billed as one that will lead to drivehome discussion. I hope it does. That discussion, though, should go well beyond the did-he-or-didn't-he. "Doubt" has a lot more going on than that. Go and (I suspect) you'll be convinced.

"Menopause the Musical" features four actresses doing song parodies about the title topic. These are strung together by a loose plot that involves these four types meeting and bonding in Bloomingdale's. They have lunch. They try on clothes. Three of them convince the fourth to try using a vibrator (when I saw "Good Vibrations" listed on the unordered music lineup, I feared they'd go there). Then it's over.

Oh, one last thing: During the curtain call-set to a version of "YMCA"-the cast invites anyone who has gone through "the change" to join them on stage for a celebratory kick line.

I can see how this can be empowering. I can see how groups of women can find mild amusement in all of this. I can see how "Menopause: The Musical" has become a hit.

And I can see how, as a 44-year-old man, my opinion is not going to hold much weight with you if the above description sounds enticing. Or if all the women in your office already have plans to go.

That's as it should be. My job isn't to tell you to go (although I will occasionally strongly encourage that) or to tell you not to go. Instead, my job is to see with an open mind, distill, consider, weigh and report. Do with it what you will.

As such, I will say that the rewritten song lyrics ("Huff, My God I'm Draggin'" et. al) feel like they were all scribbled down on a not particularly long car ride, the dialogue is written and delivered with all of the subtlety of a 70s feminine hygiene commercial, the singers do their best with nowhere to go but repetitionland, and the music is recorded (surprising, considering this one-set show's weekend ticket runs $41.50).

And apart from the "this stage of life is perfectly normal, let's laugh about it" positivism, there's also something potentially troublesome in the show's underlying message (at least, potentially troublesome for the Clinton campaign). Consider this: If enough people see this show, which characterizes 40-plus women as "brain-collapsed" (the show's words, not mine) pill-poppers who "wish we all could be sane and normal girls," what impact will that have when people go into the voting booth to decide if a 40-plus woman should be the next president of the United States?

Just asking.
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