Doubt: A Parable

Doubt: A Parable
Doubt: A Parable
Written by John Patrick Shanley
Characters Sister Aloysius
Father Flynn
Sister James
Mrs. Muller
Date premiered November 23, 2004
Place premiered Manhattan Theatre Club
New York City, New York
Original language English
Subject A nun suspects a priest of molesting an altar boy
Genre Drama
Setting A Catholic school in the Bronx. Autumn 1964.
IBDB profile

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. The play won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play.[1]



The play is set in the fictional St. Nicholas Church School, in the Bronx, during the fall of 1964. It opens with a sermon by Father Flynn, a beloved and progressive parish priest, addressing the importance of uncertainty ("Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty," he says). The school's principal, Sister Aloysius, a rigidly conservative nun vowed to the order of the Sisters of Charity, insists upon constant vigilance. During a meeting with a younger nun, Sister James, it becomes clear that Aloysius harbors a deep mistrust toward her students, her fellow clergymen, and society in general. Naïve and impressionable, James is easily upset by Aloysius’ severe manner and harsh criticism.

Aloysius and Father Flynn are put into direct conflict when she learns from Sister James that the priest met one-on-one with Donald Muller, St. Nicholas’ first African-American student. Mysterious circumstances lead her to believe that sexual misconduct occurred. In a private meeting purportedly regarding the Christmas pageant, Aloysius, in the presence of Sister James, openly confronts Flynn with her suspicions. He angrily denies wrong-doing, insisting that he was disciplining Donald for drinking altar wine, claiming to have been protecting the boy from harsher punishment. James is relieved by his explanation. Flynn's next sermon is on the evils of gossip.

Aloysius, unsatisfied with Flynn's story, meets with Donald's mother, Mrs. Muller. Despite Aloysius's attempts to shock her, Mrs. Muller says she supports her son's relationship with Flynn. She ignores Aloysius's accusations. Before departing, she hints that Donald may be "that way", and that Mr. Muller may be beating him consequently.

Father Flynn eventually threatens to remove Aloysius from her position if she does not back down. Aloysius informs him that she previously phoned the last parish he was assigned to, discovering a history of past infringements. After declaring his innocence, the priest begins to plead with her, at which point she leaves the office, disgusted. Flynn calls the bishop to apply for transfer, where, later, he receives a promotion and is instated as pastor of a nearby parochial school. Learning this, Aloysius reveals to Sister James that the decisive phone call was a fabrication. With no actual proof that Father Flynn is or is not innocent, the audience is left with its own doubt.


  • Sister Aloysius Beauvier: The head nun and principal of St Nicholas School.
  • Father Brendan Flynn: A middle aged priest. Articulate and personable.
  • Sister James: A young nun. An enthusiastic but inexperienced teacher.
  • Mrs. Muller: The mother of Donald Muller.
  • Donald Muller: St Nicholas' first black student. He doesn't appear in person during the play.


The New York production, directed by Doug Hughes, 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 others 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.[2][3]

In 2006 Eileen Atkins, Ron Eldard, and Jena Malone joined the people, replacing Jones, O'Byrne, 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. Another production was stages at Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura, California in 2010. It was directed by Artistic Associate Jenny Sullivan and starred Joseph Fuqua as Father Flynn and Robin Pearson Rose as Sister Aloysius.

In 2007, it was staged in Venezuela, in the Cellarg Theatre; with Elba Escobar, Luigi Sciamanna, Mariaca Semprun y Beatriz Vazquez.

The Australian premiere was mounted at the Sydney Opera House by the Sydney Theatre Company on 4 February 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 21 March 2006 and in the Philippines on 2 June 2006. Doubt ran at the Auckland Theater Company in New Zealand, from 16 March to 8 April 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.[4]

The play was staged in the Philippines in 2006 by Atlantis Productions. This production starred Cherie Gil as Sister Aloysius and played at the Carlos P. Romulo Theater at the RCBC Plaza in June 2006.[5]

The play 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.[6] The production ran from 22 November 2007 to 12 January 2008.

The play was directed by Roman Polanski during its run in Paris in late 2006. In April 2007, it was staged in Warsaw, Poland by producer Gene Gutowski, at Polonia Theatre.

A new production, directed by Mel Hooley with Zimbabwean actors Kevin Hanssen and Anne Fischer is being staged at Dorchester Arts in Dorset from 19–21 August 2010, supported by the British Council.

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. Miller (the name was changed in the film). Production began on December 1, 2007 with playwright John Patrick Shanley directing and Scott Rudin producing.[7]

The film is dedicated to Sister Margaret McEntee, a Sister of Charity nun who was Shanley's first-grade teacher and who served as a technical adviser for the movie, after whom Shanley modeled the character of Sister James.[8]

Awards and nominations

See also



  • Shanley, John Patrick (2005). Doubt: A Parable. New York: Theatre Communications. ISBN 1559362766. 

External links

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