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Double doubts: Cherry Jones and Linda Hunt star in East and West coast productions of Doubt, the acclaimed play about the shadows of priestly pedophilia.

Doubt * Written by John Patrick Shanley Directed by Claudia Weill (Pasadena); Doug Hughes (New York) * Starring Linda Hunt (Pasadena); Cherry Jones (New York) * Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena, Calif. (through April 10); Walter Kerr Theatre, New York City (open-ended run)

Blessed be the theater lovers, for John Patrick Shanley's drama Doubt gave birth to a divine, if short-lived, theatrical phenomenon this season. The original production of Doubt, which premiered last fall off-Broadway, spawned a West Coast production that ran March 4 through April l0 at California's Pasadena Playhouse. Meanwhile, the New York show reopened, this time on Broadway. So for a brief time, aficionados with frequent flier miles had the chance to see two great actresses, Cherry Jones in New York and Linda Hunt in Pasadena, offer compelling interpretations of the same choice leading role: Sister Aloysius, principal of a Bronx, N.Y., Roman Catholic school in 1964, who seeks to confirm her suspicion that one of her male pupils has been sexually abused by the school's handsome basketball coach, Father Flynn.

The timeliness of its subject is just one reason Doubt has raised such a stir. Shanley, who's best known as the Oscar-winning scribe of Moonstruck, has more on his mind than "Did he or didn't he?" Although the murky conflict anchors the play, Shanley uses it to open a Pandora's box of questions about blind faith--another brand of "don't ask, don't tell"--that has kept the Catholic hierarchy in gear for so long.

Shanley spins a yarn powerful enough to draw old-fashioned gasps from the audience. And both productions have done him proud, with expert directors--Doug Hughes in New York; Claudia Weill in Pasadena--and exemplary supporting casts-Brian F. O'Byrne, Heather Goldenhersh, and Adriane Lenox in New York; Jonathan Cake, Mandy Freund, and Patrice Pitman Quinn in Pasadena.

But it's the vast emotional authority of the Tony-winning Jones and the stubborn, steely intelligence of the Oscar-winning Hunt that make Doubt an unforgettable experience. Neither actress downplays Aloysius's chilly side. The nun believes "satisfaction is a vice"; in the presence of her younger colleagues, her attitudes seem as outdated as the black bonnet that tops her habit. Yet by the play's conclusion, when Aloysius reveals shadows of her own, they come as a surprise gift to the audience, if not of transcendence, then of transference.

It's a good bet that both Jones's audiences and Hunt's believe they saw the definitive Sister Aloysius. In both cases, they'd be right: Jones and Hunt are two peers who deliver peerless performances. For now, Hunt's production has wrapped, and Jones's will continue. But if there's a theatrical heaven, one day we'll see them both.

Drake's works as a writer-performer include Son of Drakula.
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Title Annotation:THEATER
Author:Stockwell, Anne
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Theater Review
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Apr 26, 2005
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