STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For 21st Century Media
Who can you trust — can you even trust yourself — when you’re full of doubt? In the play “Doubt: A Parable,” audiences explore that question — and are left to determine their own answers.
The Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, written by John Patrick Shanley, stars well-known local actors Ben Dibble and Mary Martello in a Lantern Theater Company production from Jan. 15 through Feb. 15.
Set in 1964, the play tells the story of Bronx Catholic school principal Sister Aloysius, who is stoic and severe, and parish priest Father Flynn, who is progressive and popular. When she suspects him of wrongdoing with a troubled student, the stage is set for a clash of authority, tradition, faith, and doubt.
Dibble, who lives in Malvern with his wife and “three Dibblets,” has performed in more than 70 productions in the Philadelphia region. He recently won Best Actor in a Musical at the annual Barrymore Awards for his performance as Leo Frank in “Parade” at the Arden Theatre Company.
He’s looking forward to performing the role of Father Flynn.
“He’s a very personable and passionate teacher to the boys he teaches,” Dibble said. “He invents parables as parts of his sermons and even suggests bringing secular Christmas songs into the pageant, much to the chagrin of Sister Aloysius.”
After she suspects him of inappropriate interactions, “the play revolves around what we think we know about other people and our doubts,” Dibble said.
Dibble and Flynn are similar in some ways.
“Father Flynn and I are both natural storytellers who are most at home in front of a large audience,” he said. “We both believe in teaching to the individual student as opposed to rigid structure and harsh discipline. While I’m not a religious person, I connect with his desire to be a part of the community.”
Mary Martello, who went to Catholic school and was taught by nuns, understands her character, too, and relates to Sister Aloysius.
“We are alike in our religious background. And I also like to be right about everything and often think I am,” Martello said. “Of course, I grew up in different circumstances so I am more open minded than she would allow herself to be. She’s an intelligent, capable woman who has risen as far as she can within her religious and professional parameters. She takes her position as principal to heart and cares for the children and teachers to the best of her ability.”
Both actors are impressed with Shanley’s playwriting skills.
“The dialogue crackles and the characters are richly conceived,” Dibble said. “And I think the message about how hard it is to know anything for sure about other people is deeply relevant.”
“The writing is so good that it’s a physical pleasure to speak those lines,” she said. “The play raises questions that are timeless and leaves the audience to supply its own answers. I think that is brilliant.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Doubt” by Lantern Theater Company
When: Previews Thu., Jan. 15 through Tue., Jan. 20; Opening night Wed., Jan. 21; runs through Feb. 15.
Where: Lantern Theater Company at St. Stephen’s Theater, 10th and Ludlow streets, Philadelphia.
Tickets: Previews $22; Opening night $56; rest of the run $30-$39. Student, senior citizen and group discounts available.
Info.: Call (215) 829-0395 or check lanterntheater.org.