Reflective of American politics, shades of doubt and belief have haunted many American plays and movies over the years. From The Caine Mutiny Court Martial to A Few Good Men to Doubt: A Parable, guilt or innocence turns upon the interpretation of unrelated events by a few strong-willed individuals. The dogmatic world views of characters like Colonel Joseph Jessup or Sister Aloysius Beauvier distorts their decisions much as neoconservative doctrine justified American intervention in Iraq based on sales of yellowcake uranium in Niger.
That conflict between certainty and its opposite forms the basis of the world premiere of the opera based on John Patrick Shanley’s play and the associated discussion, “The Rhetoric of Certainty” on Wednesday night, January 16th, 7-8:30pm at the Rarig Center in the Stroll Thrust Theater (330 21st Avenue South, Minneapolis). Co-sponsored by the Minnesota Opera and the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, the event explores “the rhetoric and political implications of certainty and the natural human aversion to doubt, particularly in the context of the opera’s setting (Vatican II and the Civil Rights movement) and the war in Iraq.”
Participants in the discussion include librettist and author Shanley; founder/CEO of the online newspaper MinnPost, Joel Kramer; assistant professor of strategic communication at the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Dr. Heather LaMarre; and moderator Graydon Royce, reporter and theater critic for the Star Tribune. Relating the opera’s conflict to present-day events, their focus will be upon the battle of wills at a Catholic school in the Bronx, circa 1964 between the charismatic and progressive Father Flynn, who tries to loosen the stranglehold of St. Nicholas Church School’s strict customs, and its iron-fisted principal, Sister Aloysius Beauvier, who with no proof other than her moral certainty, embarks on a personal crusade to uncover the truth behind the priest’s relationship with an African-American choir boy.
The Rarig Center event is free and open to the public; however, RSVPs are required and must be made by January 14 online at doubt.eventbrite.com. Though Wednesday’s discussion promises to be an exhaustive and insightful examination of the themes and issues contained in Shanley’s opera, wise attendees also will want to witness its premiere at the Ordway (January 26, 29, 31, February 2-3) before coming to a full determination. Only then can they come to fully appreciate the havoc wrought by Sister Aloysius’ moral certainty.