Questions about institutions and traditions may not seem so radi
cal in 2012, but in 1964, well, the times they were a changin', to paraphrase one young singer of that time.
"Doubt: A Parable," however, is at least as appropriate today as it was in 2004 when John Patrick Shanley wrote the play that is the current production of the Charleston Community Theatre.
Shanley's parable is set in 1964. It is the year following the assassination of President Kennedy. The civil rights movement is in full swing and that year the Beatles first came to the United States, changing pop music and a generation of young people.
The year 1964 also was near the end of the Second Vatican Council, an effort by Roman Catholic leaders to make the church more relevant in the modern world.
"Doubt" is set in a Catholic church and school in New York, where educational tradition is preserved by Sister Aloysius, played crisply and rigidly by-the-book by Cathy Sheagren. Among other things, Sister Aloysius dislikes ballpoint pens, long fingernails and is skeptical of the innocence of the school's pupils.
She also does not welcome changes in classroom culture introduced by young, idealistic Sister James, portrayed with youthful exuberance and idealism by Rachel Z. Fisher. Father Flynn, the parish priest, also enjoys his daily interactions with the boys he teaches in PE class.
Like Sister James, Father Flynn, as portrayed by CCT newcomer Richard G. Jones Jr., sees the need for the clergy-faculty to be more friendly and engaging with the students.
But Sister Aloysius believes Father Flynn may be having an improper relationship with a student named Donald Muller.
She recruits Sister James to look for any actions that might be suspicious on the part of the students or by Father Flynn. Eventually, Sister Aloysius confronts the priest and, although she has no proof, she has her "certainty" that something isn't right.
She invites the boy's mother for a conference but because the boy is the lone African-American student at the school, Mrs. Muller wonders if her son is being singled out because of his race.
Shanley's script is almost like a courtroom drama. It is wonderfully written and received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play, both in 2005.
But to make the dialogue believable, to lend credibility to Shanley's quest to place doubt in the audience's minds, the acting must be solid. It is. The four performers in the CCT production convey this tense, belief-shifting "parable" with conviction.
Sheagren, Fisher, Jones and Agnes Amarh as Mrs. Muller succeed in taking the audience through a roller-coaster of belief, inner conflict and doubt.
Director Joe Allison, in his first effort at directing community theater, and Assistant Director Victoria Bennett brought out superb performances from all four actors -- the only performers in the 90-minute show.
Yes, scandals in the priesthood had surfaced by the time Shanley wrote "Doubt." But people still have different views of traditions, innovation and institutions to keep "Doubt" relevant.
The top sports story in the country in 2011, according to the Associated Press, was the child abuse sex scandal in Penn State University's football program last fall. The scandal cost two administrators and coach Joe Paterno, long viewed as a man of integrity, his job. Paterno, incidentally, died this weekend.
The presentation of "Doubt" so soon after the Penn State scandal was coincidence.
Matt Piescinski, president of the CCT board of directors, said "Doubt" was selected as a 2011-12 season offering long before the Penn State scandal broke.
"Doubt: A Parable" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Tarble Arts Center. Ticket information is available at Tarble Arts Center 581-ARTS (2787).
Lair retired as the managing editor of the JG-TC.