Doubt is better than you remember, and not nearly as good. After winning everything in sight last year, John Patrick Shanley’s pedophilia thriller-drama-parable has turned to new actors to keep running, and the transplant hasn’t entirely come off. Jena Malone proves awkward and underequipped for the role of young Sister James. Ron Eldard lacks the seductive warmth needed for the accused priest, the snaky charm that, coming from Brian O’Byrne, only seemed sinister in retrospect. This man with the bulging veins is the kinder, gentler face of post–Vatican II Catholicism? In Eldard’s portrayal, he seems a sociopath.
Only Eileen Atkins makes her role completely her own. As Sister Aloysius, she is cold, as she must be. But where Cherry Jones was steely, Atkins is wry, curmudgeonly. Her ability to be at once stern and sympathetic is the key to the success of Doubt 2.0 (actually Doubt 1.75, as Adriane Lenox remains from the original cast).
The show’s continuing triumph is good news for its audiences, and for Shanley. If a production can have all these limitations and still be as thrilling, moving, and disturbing as this one, someone has written a great play indeed.