March 24, 2005

Tiny Malice

LA Weekly


For a moment I thought I had wandered into the wrong theater last week. I’d come to the Pasadena Playhouse to see Doubt, John Patrick Shanley’s play about a priest accused of child molesting, but what I was watching resembled one of those classy horror movies the British used to make, the kind where agnostic bureaucrats argue with men of faith about sinister mysteries. (“And I put it to you, vicar, the children aren’t human.”) Everything from set designer Gary L. Wissman’s withered rectory garden to Jeremy Pivnick’s moody lighting and Steven Cahill’s whispery sound effects brings the viewer to the edge of dread. And on the other side of that edge stands Linda Hunt as the mirthless principal of a Bronx parochial school.

“Boys are made of tar, tar paper and dirt,” Sister Aloysius informs a newcomer to the school — a line that, coming from Hunt’s sepulchral mouth, sounds less like a feminist critique than a practical recipe for voodoo-doll making. The diminutive sister’s grim, Hibernian Catholicism unmistakably marks her as a card-carrying exorcist rather than another caricature from the large sorority of comically deranged stage nuns.

The time is 1964 — the liberal Pope John and the Catholic President John Kennedy are dead, and the roller coaster of American history is about to rocket up to (or plunge into) “the Sixties” proper. That dawning era of experiment and change is personified by the studly yet sensitive figure of Father Flynn (Jonathan Cake), St. Nicholas’ eloquent, charismatic pastor.

Posted by kshaw at March 24, 2005 04:19 AM