Review | No ‘Doubt’ about this Broadway revival that still asks powerful questions

Doubt cast Amy Ryan, Zoe Kazan and Liev Schreiber
Amy Ryan (Sister Aloysius), Zoe Kazan (Sister James), Liev Schreiber (Father Flynn) in Roundabout Theatre Company’s new Broadway production of Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Scott Ellis.
Photo by Joan Marcus/provided

“I have doubts… I have such doubts!” the crusading Sister Aloysius Beauvier tearfully confesses at the end of “Doubt,” John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning drama.

Two decades on, “Doubt” still raises questions. Was Sister Aloysius justified in prosecuting a campaign against her superior in the church, Father Brendan Flynn, based purely on suspicions of child abuse and without any first-hand evidence? Did Father Flynn’s actions in response to Sister Aloysius’ accusations and a final bluff constitute an admission of guilt? Could Sister Aloysius (who is not unlike the Catholic school equivalent of Inspector Javert) have been a bit more compassionate instead of relentless?

That being said, there is little doubt that “Doubt,” ” which is now receiving a solid Broadway revival courtesy of the Roundabout Theatre Company. remains one of the most exciting, lean (with a 90-minute run time) and shrewd American dramas of the 21st century.

In 2005, “Doubt” (which is subtitled “A Parable”) seemed to be commenting upon America’s act of invading Iraq based upon unfounded suspicions that it harbored weapons of mass destruction. Today, Sister Aloysius’ actions feel even more questionable in a world in which false narratives consume social media and inspire hateful rhetoric and violent actions. But then again, could she be viewed as a predecessor of the #MeToo movement of exposing sexual abuse?

The original Broadway production, starring Cherry Jones as Sister Aloysius and Brían F. O’Byrne as Father Flynn, was a true must-see New York event. The subsequent 2008 film version with Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman showed that “Doubt” works a lot better as a piece of theater because in spite of its moral complexities, it also functions as an old-fashioned mystery thriller and a gladiatorial combat that demands a live audience.

Doubt cast Amy Ryan and Zoe Kazan
Amy Ryan (Sister Aloysius) and Zoe Kazan (Sister James) in Roundabout Theatre Company’s new Broadway production of Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Scott Ellis.Photo by Joan Marcus/provided

The Roundabout revival of “Doubt” was originally slated to star Tyne Daly as Sister Aloysius. But after Daly missed the first few previews due to medical reasons, Daly withdrew and film actress Amy Ryan (who last appeared on Broadway in a revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire” during the same season as the original production of “Doubt”) swooped in to take over.

Ryan is joined by Liev Schreiber as Father Flynn, Zoe Kazan (“Ruby Sparks”) as the novice Sister James, and Obie Award-winner Quincy Tyler Bernstine as Mrs. Muller, mother to a child who may or may not have been victimized.

“Doubt” is not a play that requires an intricate staging or impressive design elements. Rather, the director (in this case, Scott Ellis) needs to primarily be concerned about achieving a smooth interplay among the four actors that achieves maximum dramatic tension plus moments of comic relief. Even if Kazan plays up her character’s panic a bit too much, the ensemble acting in this production is generally satisfying.

While one suspects that Daly’s performance would have been reminiscent of the commanding and resolute qualities of Cherry Jones, Ryan’s Sister Aloysius is more skeptical and unsure throughout, accentuating the character’s struggle to continue with her questionable quest and put her position and future at risk. Whereas Jones was dominant, Ryan is shaded, trying to be strong in spite of “such doubts.” On the other hand, Bernstine comes off as perceptive and mature as a mother with a very different point of view.

Schreiber (in his first Broadway performance since a misbegotten 2016 revival of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”) is a chummy, relaxed, New York-bred Father Flynn, likable but with hints of insecurity and guilt.

Todd Haimes Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St., roundabouttheatre.org. Through April 21.