Doubt: A Parable

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 was turned into an Academy Award-nominated film starring Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn.

Doubt, A Parable
Doubt, A Parable.jpg
Written byJohn Patrick Shanley
CharactersSister Aloysius
Father Flynn
Sister James
Mrs. Muller
Date premieredNovember 23, 2004
Place premieredManhattan Theatre Club
New York City, New York
Original languageEnglish
SubjectA nun suspects a priest of molesting an altar boy
SettingA Catholic school in the Bronx. Autumn 1964.


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 teachers, and society in general. Naïve and impressionable, James is easily upset by Aloysius’s 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-to-one with Donald Muller, St. Nicholas’s 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 wrongdoing, 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, dissatisfied 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 blackmails him and demands that he resign immediately, or else she will publicly disgrace him with his history. She then leaves the office, disgusted. Flynn calls the bishop to apply for a 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. As a result of this, she[vague] is left with ambiguous doubt and the audience is left to wonder if the doubt is in either herself or the Church. 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. Driven by a high sense of duty but rigid and conservative.
  • Father Brendan Flynn: A middle aged priest. Articulate and personable.
  • Sister James: A young impressionable nun. Enthusiastic but inexperienced teacher.
  • Mrs. Muller: The mother of Donald Muller, the school's first black student.


The New York City production, directed by Doug Hughes, was performed in one-act performance, running approximately ninety 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] This production had scenic design by John Lee Beatty, costume design by Catherine Zuber, lighting design by Pat Collins, and original music and sound design by David Van Tieghem.

In 2006, Eileen Atkins, Ron Eldard, and Jena Malone joined the cast, 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 staged 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 and Beatriz Vazquez.

The Australian premiere was mounted at the Sydney Opera House by the Sydney Theatre Company on February 4, 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 March 21, 2006, by ACTION Theatre, directed by Samantha Scott-Blackhall, with Nora Samosir as Sister Aloysius, Lim Yu-Beng as Father Flynn and Pam Oei as Sister James. The next production was in the Philippines on June 2, 2006. Doubt ran at the Auckland Theater Company in New Zealand, from March 16 to April 8, 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 November 22, 2007, to January 12, 2008.

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

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

A production opened in Sydney, Australia, at the Old Fitzroy Theatre on May 12, 2017. The cast, Belinda Giblin (Sister Aloysius), Matilda Ridgway (Sister James), Damian de Montemas (Father Flynn) and Charmaine Bingwa (Mrs Muller), was directed by Dino Dimitriadis.


A 2008 film adaptation by Miramax 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]

An opera based on the play, commissioned by the Minnesota Opera, premiered in 2013, with music by Douglas J. Cuomo to a libretto by Shanley.

Awards and nominationsEdit


  1. ^ Simonson, Robert (April 4, 2005). "Doubt wins the Pulitzer Prize". Playbill. Archived from the original on August 29, 2008.
  2. ^ Marks, Peter (December 16, 2004). "An Unshakable 'Doubt'". The Washington Post.
  3. ^ Brantley, Ben (November 4, 2004). "A Nun Who Is Certain, Even If Truth Is Not". The New York Times.
  4. ^ "Auckland Theatre Company presents Doubt". Scoop. March 3, 2006. Retrieved June 2, 2008.
  5. ^ Abunda, Boy (May 31, 2006). "Cherie Gil Sheds Villaness Persona for Doubt". Philippine Star & Philippine Headline News Online. Archived from the original on December 19, 2008. Retrieved December 16, 2008.
  6. ^ "Photo Flash: 'Doubt'". Broadway World. November 23, 2007.
  7. ^ Pincus-Roth, Zachary (April 19, 2007). "Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman to Star in Doubt Film". Playbill. Archived from the original on April 27, 2007. Retrieved April 19, 2007.


  • Shanley, John Patrick (2005). Doubt: A Parable. New York: Theatre Communications. ISBN 978-1-55936-276-4.

External linksEdit