It's about following one's instincts, self-conviction, perseverance and bending the rules to find the truth. It's about honoring the past but paying attention to the present. It's about believing in the goodness of human beings, looking beyond stereotypes, keeping your mind open and your mouth closed. It's about working for the common good while preserving individual privacy. It's about knowing when you can win a battle and when to direct your efforts elsewhere. It's about having the freedom - and the courage - to change your mind.
"Doubt, A Parable" addresses all of these themes. The Ritz Players are to present this award-winning drama by John Patrick Shanley at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Feb. 25 and 2 p.m. Feb. 26 in The National Theatre.
The action is set in St. Nicholas Parish and School in the Bronx, N.Y. The year is 1964, a gateway of sorts, to the modern era. The play program includes a list of that year's events, including the appearance of the Beatles on "Ed Sullivan Show," the production of the first Ford Mustang, the advent of the first computer program in BASIC, and the signing of commercial tenants for the World Trade Center.
In addition, the Catholic Church is making significant changes as decreed by Pope John XXIII and Vatican Council II. The audience is introduced to Father Brendan Flynn, played by Brad Rowe of Bellevue.
As he delivers a sermon on the topic of doubt in the opening scene, he alludes to the assassination of President John Kennedy and the despair that descended on the nation. Many people felt abandoned by God.
Those who suffer alone suffer the most, Flynn says, resulting in a "crisis of faith."
The action shifts to the office of Sister Aloysius, portrayed by theater veteran Dianne Pytel. As principal of St. Nicholas School, she oversees more than 300 students from grades 1-8.
Once married and now a widow, she belongs to the Sisters of Charity, an order established by Elizabeth Seton. The stern Sister Aloysius rarely smiles and is proud that she terrifies the students. No one is going to play her for a fool.
A new teacher at the school is Sister James, played by LaRae Seay. She is young enough to have some enthusiasm and compassion for her adolescent charges in grade 8. She especially wants to make Donald Muller, the school's first black student, feel welcome, even if it is only for the school year.
When Sister James stops at the office to check on a boy who went home after a nosebleed, the principal surmises the boy probably self-induced an injury so he could miss school.
She also gives her opinions about several other students.
Sister James had not expected a teaching critique when she entered the office, but that is what ensues. Sister Aloysius advises the young teacher to send more students to the office for discipline and to "be hard on the bright ones."
Teens can be crafty, so Sister James needs to have a backbone and a good sense of skepticism. And by the way, she is not to let anyone know another sister is losing her eyesight.
Before Sister James can return to class, the principal asks her opinion of Father Flynn. Sister James says the priest coaches the boys' basektball team and relates well to the students.
But Sister Aloysius has her doubts about Father Flynn.
Perhaps he is too friendly with the male students. She has observed a boy pull away when the priest touched his hand. In addition, he has befriended the black student, supposedly to protect him from his classmates.
Those doubts become stronger as Sister James relates a suspicious incident that involves Donald and Father Flynn. The principal organizes a meeting with Sister James and Father Flynn in her office.
What begins as a discussion about the Christmas pageant evolves into a confrontation with the priest. At first, he balks at her accusation and refuses to share any information, but he realizes she is on a mission. He gives an explanation that seems too realistic to be fiction.
Sister James is relieved, but Sister Aloysius is not satisfied. She has convinced herself he is lying to cover up abuse.
Next, the boy's mother, played by Valerie Thames of Sandusky, is called to the school for a conference.
Sister Aloysius expresses her concerns about Donald's possible relationship with Father Flynn and her desire to bring the priest to justice.
To the principal's surprise, Mrs. Muller does not want her son involved in any actions against the priest. She says her boy transferred to St. Nicholas to avoid bullying at his former school.
Her husband has beaten the boy on numerous occasions, and Father Flynn is the first man to treat Donald kindly. She will not be intimidated to cooperate with the principal's vendetta.
So what is a principal to do? The male-dominated hierarchy of the church is stacked against her. No one seems to be on her side.
Father Flynn delivers another sermon, this time about gossip and its far-reaching effects. The remainder of the production introduces a few more wrinkles before a sort of resolution is reached and Sister Aloysius' wall of conviction crumbles.
As in real life, no one is a clear winner, and the entire truth is not revealed.
Adding to the tense tone of the play is the stark setting in the no-frills school office and the garden fading into winter. A bright contrast is the stained glass window that seems to radiate hope above Father Flynn's pulpit.
The intimate venue also lets the audience experience every gesture, facial expression and vocal tone of the players.
Nancy Steyer is doing her first solo directing duties, having co-directed on many other Players productions.
She recruited an experienced crew, including Dinah Adams, Kyle Hammer, Bev Martin, Sandy Kimmel and set design and construction by Nancy Betz, Bob Dougherty and Mandy Wolber.
Following the play, refreshments are to be served and moderators Margaret Gillikin and Dalva Church are to lead a discussion for those who want to stay and offer input or ask questions.