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Theater Works' Doubt Is Undoubtedly a Must-See

The setup: John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck) has also penned many's the popular stage play. His 2005 Tony- and Pulitzer-winning Doubt: A Parable became a film as well, and all four leads were nominated for Academy Awards.

With its small cast, simple production requirements, and thought-provoking story, it's become popular among community theaters, and Peoria's Theater Works is presenting it currently.

The execution: There are a number of almost eerie parallels between this play and the similarly award-winning Proof: The titles refer to two points on the spectrum of constant tension where we perceive what we call "truth," both four-handed plots are trapped on a single, literally or figuratively cloistered piece of real estate, we're not completely sure what that truth is at the end of each play, and I, at least, have to think for a minute about which script is which when I hear one of the titles.

Proof is a little looser and funnier. Doubt is perhaps more relevant to everyday life while also taking place in perhaps an even more rarefied atmosphere than Chicago academia: a New York City Catholic school in 1964.

Directed by Judy Rollings with a stripped-down yet impressive set by Thom Gilseth, this production sticks the landing on several levels. It aptly depicts the chilly, almost stunted life of some religious communities while also revealing the several individual fires that rage in each of us.

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The main conflict is between principal Sister Aloysius (Robyn Allen) and pastor Father Flynn (Christopher Haines). Aloysius is extremely pre-Vatican II in her philosophy -- rule-bound and authoritative -- but she knows she's officially subordinate to the warmer and more fuzzy Flynn, and her outlet becomes an obsessive pursuit of information about the relationship between the priest and one of his teenage male students.

Amanda Noel plays Sister James, a young teacher who longs for a mentor's attention but is unsure whose side is right. Chanel Bragg, who seems to be in every possible show lately, much to our delight, plays the boy's mother, whose single appearance adds more complexity to the situation than you would imagine possible.

The verdict: This is a dream director-ensemble combination for this play, which consists entirely of verbal arguments and requires (and receives) deft work from everyone involved. Doubt: A Parable continues through Sunday, September 30, at Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, 8355 West Peoria Avenue. Order tickets here ($13 to $31) or call 623-815-7930.

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