GPT’s Purdon Studio Theatre raises curtain on ‘Doubt’

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 27, 2013

 Kathleen Conlon, of St. Clair Shores, plays the stern school principal Sister Aloysius, and Jerry Nehr, of Grosse Pointe Woods, plays Father Brendan Flynn in “Doubt, A Parable,” now being produced by the Grosse Pointe Theatre’s Purdon Studio Theatre.

Kathleen Conlon, of St. Clair Shores, plays the stern school principal Sister Aloysius, and Jerry Nehr, of Grosse Pointe Woods, plays Father Brendan Flynn in “Doubt, A Parable,” now being produced by the Grosse Pointe Theatre’s Purdon Studio Theatre.

Photo by Dale Pegg, courtesy of GP Theatre

GROSSE POINTE SHORES — When the Grosse Pointe Theatre launched its black box production arm, the Purdon Studio Theatre, three years ago, it was with the goal of producing newer, edgier plays than the ones typically staged by GPT.

That’s certainly true of “Doubt, A Parable,” the 2005 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play by John Patrick Shanley, which runs through March 3. Set in The Bronx, N.Y., in 1964, it’s about a popular priest, Father Brendan Flynn, who’s suspected of molesting a 12-year-old altar boy by Sister Aloysius, the strict principal of St. Nicholas School. Although the show, itself, lives up to its title by giving the audience room to assess the true nature of the characters, the subject matter was enough to cause some outraged GPT patrons to threaten to cancel their season subscriptions.

Those involved in this production say that’s unfortunate, because the show isn’t an indictment of Catholicism.

“I think it’s very ambiguous,” said Kristen Schultes, of Grosse Pointe Park, who plays the young, naïve Sister James. “The great thing about the play is that it provokes you to ask questions, which is a good thing. It really just gets the audience thinking.”

Jerry Nehr, of Grosse Pointe Woods, who plays Father Flynn, concurred.

“This is about more than just the Catholic church,” he said. “There are many messages in the play.”

The story becomes even more complex in that the altar boy, who may or may not have been victimized, is the school’s first black student.

Kathleen Conlon, of St. Clair Shores, who plays Sister Aloysius, is also chair of the Purdon Studio Theatre Committee. She said they chose the play “because of its social relevance.” She said that she’s a product of 12 years of Catholic education, herself, and that she’s “eternally grateful” for the “wonderful education” she received from the nuns who taught her.

Diane Flint, of Oak Park, plays the altar boy’s mother, Mrs. Muller. This is her first GPT show since she was in the female version of “The Odd Couple,” and she said she was excited to work with director Lois Bendler on what she called “a great play.” Her character occupies a pivotal role in the story, and Flint said she believes Mrs. Muller and her son “harbor a secret.”

“All of the people in the play are acting out of their convictions, and they believe they’re acting in the best interests of the boy,” Conlon said.

Bendler, of St. Clair Shores, has ably helmed socially conscious plays before, including GPT’s production of “The Exonerated,” and she was eager to take on another weighty work. “Doubt” is “full of very deep characterizations (and) the subject is important,” she said.

“It raises the issue of suspicion,” Bendler explained. “Gossip, whether it’s true or not, can become very destructive.”

Performances of “Doubt” are in the Activities Center of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, 1100 Lake Shore. The show is being staged at 8 p.m. Feb. 28 and March 1-2, and 2 p.m. March 3. Tickets are $15. For tickets or more information, call GPT at (313) 881-4004 or visit www.gpt.org.