PLEASANT GROVE — Brigham Young once said, “Upon the stage of a theater can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy rewards; the weakness and follies of man, the magnanimity of virtue and the greatness of truth.” This quote is emblazoned on the wall as you enter the black box theatre at Liahona Preparatory Academy, where Creekside Theatre Fest hosts its annual summer shows. This quote was a foreboding precursor to Creekside’s production of Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley as pondered on the uncertain resolution of the story which played out before me. 

Doubt has only been reviewed twice in UTBA’s archives and it is a show that satisfies neither the desire for escape nor the craving for poetic justice that audiences often seek in their play going experience. The story centers on the events of The St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx. A catholic priest named Father Flynn is suspected by the school’s dictatorial principal, Sister Alouysius, of sexually assaulting a lonely black student who is new to the school. Through the play’s action, Flynn gives sermons on doubt, intolerance, and gossip. An insecure nun named Sister James finds herself caught in between the two and speculation and circumstantial evidence swirl, leaving the audience absolutely certain of nothing. 

David Walker Morley’s direction pulled no punches. The play is treacherous with subtext, but it was never uncertain how the characters felt. Morley helped the cast find immense humor from playing the characters flaws to their extremest points. Sister James was not just nervous, but jittery; Sister Alouyicious was not just strict, but totalitarian. What made this work, however, was watching these characters stake themselves to their arguments even as they blew past previously stated principles in pursuit of their purpose. At times, I felt like a little space to breathe, infer, and reflect would have been nice, but it was clear that the point was to instead get caught up. The director’s note states that in a society where we’re quick to judge, so often it’s not about right or wrong, “but rather why, and at what cost?”  

Creekside Theatre Fest ; Doubt ; 2024 ; Utah County ; Pleasant Grove ;

Creekside’s DOUBT plays through June 22 at Liahona Academy.

The play was driven by passionate and spectacular acting. Morgan Gunter plays Father Flynn without any guile for most of the play. He appears to be an excitable but careful priest who develops strong interpersonal relationships with the students. One scene has Flynn teaching a host of boys who aren’t there how to shoot a free throw, and it was a spectacular monologue. Gunter walked as if he knew where each boy was, what their relationship to one another consisted of, and even details like their shooting form. Through so much of the play, he appeared hurt rather than defensive, and it wasn’t until later in the play that he began to act in a way that infused doubt into this audience member’s mind. Even in those moments, you want to believe the good he’s offering, but it comes at a price. Playing someone carrying these accusations, and perhaps being guilty of them, while not coming across as slimy the whole production was impressive. Gunter excelled at winning the audience over while making one wonder if that was the intent all along. 

Shaunna Thompson, who I reviewed in Next to Normal last year, was beyond rigid in her absolute certainty to begin with. Her arc was the most fascinating to watch and Thompson found exactly the right words to emphasize as she made her arguments. It was compelling to watch her pursue her convictions in the name of truth, and to do so at any cost. The passionate contention between Thompson and Gunter was magnetic as they hurled lines rich with subtext so the meaning couldn’t be missed. The only break in this fervor was a small moment when the door frame on stage broke from a hard slam and the good Sister was unable to exit. I had to suppress a laugh, and I think those on stage did as well. It was a brief respite from actors who were flame throwing fire and brimstone all night.

Creekside Theatre Fest ; Doubt ; 2024 ; Utah County ; Pleasant Grove ;

The other supporting actors were strong as well. Jeanelle Huff’s Sister James was incredibly beaten down at first, but grew in confidence to those who treated her with kindness. She made it easy to see how someone could trust Father Flynn. Huff was a touch one note for a large portion of the play, but that seemed to be in the script more than anything else. Mak Millord played Mrs. Muller and it was agonizing to watch. Muller is written to care only that her son moves on, and refuses to engage in trouble because she’s seen the harm it can already do. Millord’s firm but fractured refusal to be involved was heart rending as she decided to pay the cost of accepting the good and leaving the rest — as grim as that rest might be. 

The black box theatre made for an unavoidably intimate staging and it produced strong emotional response. The stage was divided neatly in to three locations; an office, a pulpit, and a park bench in a courtyard. The symbols in the play were overt, such as Sister Alouyscious protecting one tree, the religious symbols of dove, cross and open book, as well as the wardrobe that set the performance clearly in a Catholic School. I loved Jen Christensen’s attention to detail for the religious attire and the beautiful outfit worn by Mrs. Muller. It was prim, period appropriate, but gave an air of trying just a little too hard to look proper which suited her character. 

Doubt was a tightly packed and punchy performance. In almost exactly ninety minutes with no intermission, the show asked a litany of difficult questions and few answers to any of them. Those that were proffered were malleable depending on the disposition of the viewer, and in that way the show was a smashing success. I don’t know that truth, consequences or rewards were doled out on stage in the text, but the performance was exceptionally thought provoking and potent.

DOUBT plays through June 22, 2024 as one of three plays at Creekside Theatre Fest including SCHOOL of ROCK and KING LEAR. The fest runs through July 2 at Liahona Preparatory Academy (2464 W. Pleasant Grove, UT). Tickets are $15-20. For more information, visit