A parable is defined as a simple story that teaches a moral or religious lesson. John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play, “Doubt, A Parable,” has much to teach us about faith, humanity, and the vagaries of good and evil, but it is hardly simple.
Father Flynn (Clinton Brandhagen) transforms the audience into his congregation. He speaks of a sailor lost at sea who thinks he is paddling toward home. But is he? Adrift, isolated by his doubt that is “as powerful a bond as certainty,” only God knows the truth ... though Sister Aloysius (Laura Giannarelli), principal of St. Nicholas School in 1964, thinks she knows as well. It is her doubts about Father Flynn and his relationship with 12-year-old Donald Muller, the school’s only black student, that form the essential conflict within the play.
Caught in the middle, unsure of which side to take, is Sister James (Katy Carkuff), who represents a tide for change in the face of Sister Aloysius’ literal “old school” style of speak loudly and swing a big stick. It’s a tide Father Flynn rides as well, as both believe in a more nurturing, “hands on” approach to teaching. But what exactly does “hands on” entail for Father Flynn?
Is Sister Aloysius an intolerant crucifix-in-the-mud who sees heresy in “Frosty the Snowman,” or is she right to “take action” when she believes a child’s safety may be at stake? Is Father Flynn a product of the 1960s, a priest who believes in “fun” or a predator who knows how to work the system?
In the end, each character is isolated by a crisis of faith — faith in the inherent goodness of others, in the philosophies that shape who we are, and in the decisions that may forever change our lives and those around us.
Sparkling with charm and wit, “Doubt” benefits from powerful performances by the entire cast who heartily embrace their roles, never straying into stereotype. James Fouchard merits kudos for a clever set design, creating a background image of the Mother Mary cradling her child while a monk stands at one side and a nun on the other. The prop then breaks in half, jagged down the middle, opening and closing with each scene change, a metaphor for the play itself.
“Doubt: A Parable”
Venue: Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays;  through Oct. 5
Tickets: $18 to $38.
Info.: 410-752-2208; www.everymantheatre.org