Doubt: A Parable

Doubt: A Parable is a 2004 play by John Patrick Shanley originally staged off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club on November 23, 2004. The production transferred to the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway in March 2005 and closed on July 2, 2006 after 525 performances and 25 previews. It is the fifth longest running play on Broadway in the preceding ten years of its closing.

Plot synopsis

Characters: Sister Aloysius
Father Flynn
Sister James
Mrs. Muller

Set in the St. Nicholas Church School in The Bronx during the fall of 1964, Father Flynn asks the audience in the opening line of this play, "What do you do when you're not sure?"

His colleague, Sister Aloysius, is an old-school nun who insists that her students not be coddled: "Every easy choice today will have its consequence tomorrow. Mark my words." Flynn, following the Second Vatican Council's directive, believes the clergy should be more accessible to the parish and be thought of "as members of their family."

These two schools of thought come into direct conflict when Aloysius suspects Flynn of "interfering" with Donald Muller, the school's first black student. Sister James, an inexperienced but enthusiastic young nun who has been an indirect witness to the dealings between Flynn and Muller, is subsequently confronted by Aloysius. When James reluctantly reports smelling alcohol on Donald's breath after a visit with Flynn, she sets the play's central conflict into motion. The fourth character, Mrs. Muller (Donald's mother) provides yet another perspective when she's brought in to discuss the situation with Aloysius. She supports her son's friendship with Flynn, inappropriate or not, and hints that this situation has arisen for Donald before.

In a verbal battle, Aloysius confronts Flynn with her suspicions, demanding his confession and resignation. He refuses, denying any wrong-doing. When Aloysius claims to have evidence, he appears to crumple and she exits, seemingly victorious.

In the final scene, we learn that Flynn has been transferred to another parish and received a promotion, and Sister Aloysius confesses to Sister James that she has grave doubts about the events that have transpired.


The New York production was performed in one act, running approximately 90 minutes. In interviews, the cast said the second act was what took place when the audience left the theatre and began to discuss their differing opinions of the events - some agreeing with Aloysius and other siding with Flynn. Upon publication, Shanley changed the title from Doubt to Doubt: A Parable.

The four original cast members were Cherry Jones as Sister Aloysius, Brían F. O'Byrne as Father Flynn, Heather Goldenhersh as Sister James, and Adriane Lenox as Mrs. Muller.

In 2006 Ron Eldard, Eileen Atkins and Jena Malone joined the cast, replacing O'Byrne, Jones, and Goldenhersh, respectively. In the Fall of 2006, Jones headed the national touring company that consisted of Chris McGarry, Lisa Joyce, and Caroline Stefanie Clay. Doubt won the 2007 Touring Broadway Award as Best Play.

The West Coast premiere was directed by Claudia Weill and took place at the Pasadena Playhouse.

The Australian premiere was mounted at the Sydney Opera House by the Sydney Theatre Company on February 4, 2006. The cast included Alison Bell, Jennifer Flowers, and Christopher Garbardi, and was directed by Julian Meyrick. This was followed by the Asian debut of Doubt in Singapore on March 21, 2006 and in the Philippines on June 2, 2006. Doubt ran at the Auckland Theater Company in New Zealand, from March 16 to April 8, 2006, directed by Colin McColl, with Latham Gaines as Father Flynn, Elizabeth Hawthorne as Sister Aloysius, Kate Prior as Sister James and Goretti Chadwick as Mrs Muller.

In late 2007 to early 2008 the play was premiered in Britain at the Tricycle Theatre. Directed by Nicolas Kent, it starred Dearbhla Molloy as Sister Aloysius, Nikki Amuka-Bird as Mrs Muller, Padraic Delaney as Father Flynn and Marcella Plunkett as Sister James. .

The play was directed by Roman Polanski during its run in Paris in late 2006. In April 2007, it was staged in Warsaw, Poland, at Polonia Theatre. The British premiere of the play, directed by Nicolas Kent, is taking place at the Tricycle Theatre in North London. The new production is due to run from November 22, 2007 to January 12, 2008.

Film adaptation

Miramax Films' adaptation of the play stars Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn, Amy Adams as Sister James and Viola Davis as Mrs. Muller. Production began on December 1, 2007 with playwright John Patrick Shanley directing and Scott Rudin producing.

Awards and nominations


  • 2005 Drama Desk Award for Best New Play
  • 2005 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play
  • 2005 New York Drama Critics' Circle Best Play
  • 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
  • 2005 Tony Award for Best Play


Further reading

External links

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