Owen Carey

Portland is a gay, gay town this month—gayer than usual, I mean—with Pride serving as anchor to a flurry of queer-themed events. Perhaps not coincidentally, Portland Center Stage has homo-themed plays currently running on both stages: The Little Dog Laughed, an intelligent, funny bit of social commentary about a Hollywood leading man with an awkward predilection for call boys, and John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, about a white Catholic priest in the 1960s who is accused by a nun of molesting a black schoolboy.

Now before I get dogpiled for suggesting that a play about a priest who may or may not have molested a student has "homo themes" (rather than, you know, sexual-abuse themes), I should point out that Doubt is far too complicated a play to allow for facile pigeonholing of any sort.

We never actually see the schoolboy with whose fate the play is concerned—we know only that he is the only black student in school, recently befriended by Father Flynn (John Behlmann). The humorless Sister Aloysius (Jayne Taini) is convinced Father Flynn has taken advantage of the boy, despite no tangible evidence supporting her claims, while Father Flynn himself—jocular, relatable, and not entirely trustworthy—vehemently denies her allegations, while the timid Sister James (Jennifer Lee Taylor) is caught in the middle. (Taylor gives the only weak performance here—her character is by turns mousy and simpering, never really coming into focus.)

The most powerful moment in the show—and one of the most powerful moments in recent Portland theater history—comes when Sister Aloysius, confronts the boy's mother. While Aloysius expects to find an ally, Mrs. Muller's (Lisa Renee Pitts) maternal protectiveness toward her son manifests itself in a vastly more complex and entirely more interesting manner. It's an amazing scene: Two women, each equally firm in her convictions, equally convinced that what she is doing is right.

The play's impact is weakened by an 11th-hour revelation that feels gimmicky after the enthralling hour and a half that preceedes it—but if you can pretend the last five minutes never happened, it's a taut, thought-provoking production.