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Bad habit: Play at Theatreworks casts a light on doubt 

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Halfway into my interview with Leah Chandler-Mills, who plays Sister Aloysius in John Patrick Shanley's Doubt: A Parable, I ask her if she's convinced of her co-protagonist's guilt.

"Father Flynn is a wolf in sheep's clothing, an absolute predator who set one boy up in particular and has no business being a priest," says the 30-year-veteran actress and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs theater professor.

For a moment, I'm sure I'm actually speaking with a nun.

While interviewing Kelly Walters, who plays Father Flynn, I hear a much more measured take.

"It's tricky, because this play is a mystery," says the 20-year actor, teacher and director of theater. "The audience has to decide what the lesson is, and it is about doubt."

Even Walters himself has to walk a "tightrope" in discerning his take on the truth. Shanley's play, set in 1964 at a Bronx Catholic school, ensures that no one, even the actors, knows for sure whether Flynn has engaged in inappropriate conduct with a new student, who is also the school's first black student.

It is, of course, a tumultuous time, when things long taken for granted are being challenged, and tensions simmer between old and new schools of thought. While all of America deals with civil rights and segregation issues, the Vatican Council grapples with the growth of birth control and whether Mass should be said in English rather than just in Latin.

"Because it's about the Catholic Church in the '60s, it gives heavier moral weight to the story," Walters says. "The Catholic Church was going through big changes aimed at making it more accessible to the community."

Walters says Father Flynn is someone "familiar with the concept of doubt, and believes the church should move forward," while Sister Aloysius is "a character that has faith in certainty and is firmly entrenched in Catholic tradition."

Doubt won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for drama and Tony Award for Best Play. Walters says the 90-minute production "zips by" because of the "drama, tension, suspense and thought-provoking action."

The play, directed by Mark Hennessy, stages only four characters, including Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn. Sister James, played by Julie Sweum, is Sister Aloysius' confidant. Lynne Bell plays the boy's mother. Donald Muller, the alleged victim of abuse and central character, never actually appears in the play thus heightening doubt.

"It's called Doubt: A Parable, and a parable doesn't have an ending," says Chandler-Mills. "It's not tied up in a pretty package with a bow on top."

Doubt: A Parable

Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Cragwood Drive

Nov. 1-18; Wednesdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m.

Tickets: $12-$22; visit theatreworkscs.org or call 262-3232 for more.

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