Art lessons

By Evelyn C. McDonald
Arts & Culture Report
April 18, 2018 3:15  p.m.

Sara Payne plays the mother of a troubled student at the school where Catherine West’s Sister Aloysius is the principal, in Amelia Community Theatre’s production of “Doubt.”

Every so often, someone asks, “What good is art? Why spend money teaching and promoting it?” Usually after I hear that, a piece of art will provide me with a compelling reason to teach and promote art. Last weekend was a perfect example. I went to see the Amelia Community Theatre’s production of “Doubt.”

Not to give the plot away but the story takes place in a Catholic church and school in 1964. There are 4 actors – the nun in charge of the school, the priest in charge of both church and school, one of the sisters who teaches, and the mother of a student. It is a story about certainty and doubt, and the force that each one can have on our lives.

The central character is Sister Aloysius, the older nun who runs the school. The shadow of Vatican II hangs over the play. That event upended some very familiar patterns in Catholic life and rendered certainty less certain. The Sister is a product of this earlier time and the changes perhaps unsettle her. She determines that the priest is engaging in inappropriate behavior with one of the students. She is certain and feels it is sufficient that she has proved the case to herself. Whether anyone else believes her is irrelevant.

The play moves between two certainties – the nun’s and the priest’s. An observer, the teaching nun, is distressed by the doubt this contest has given her. Each character moves in an arc from the beginning of the play to the end. The success of the play is whether we believe the ending, rather than whether we agree on the guilt or innocence of the priest.

Catherine West did an outstanding job as Sister Aloysius. Her certainty was unrelenting. She embodied the older view of the role of the church and school in the lives of the parishioners. As Father Flynn, Sam Cobean was a proponent of the new role of the church as more approachable and welcoming. As Sister James, the nun caught between the two, Katie Stanley was torn with doubt before achieving some certainty. Sara Payne provided just the right touch as Mrs. Muller, the mother who wants the best for her child and is willing to accept ambiguity to get it.

Back to the value of art – it gives us entry into other worlds so that we can consider emotions, problems, doubts. We can watch characters from a safe distance as they explore contentious subjects. And we can learn from this exploration. For this alone, art is worth teaching and promoting.

“Doubt” will continue this weekend. I encourage you to visit its world. Given that our times are overly filled with certainties, it should be an interesting experience.

Evelyn McDonald moved to Fernandina Beach from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. in 2006. Evelyn is vice-chair on the Amelia Center for Lifelong Learning and is on the Dean’s Council for the Carpenter Library at the UNF. Ms. McDonald has MS in Technology Management from the University of Maryland’s University College and a BA in Spanish from the University of Michigan.