Liz Martin, Deseret Morning News
Shannon Koob and Jeff Talbott in Pioneer Theatre Company's production of Pulitzer-winning "Doubt."
"DOUBT," PIONEER THEATRE COMPANY, Pioneer Memorial Theatre, through Nov. 17 (581-6961), running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

Playwright John Patrick Shanley packs plenty of questions into his tightly written drama — none of which come with any easy answers. There's a reason it's called "Doubt" instead of "Certainty."

Every character leaves you wondering whether or not he or she is right or wrong.

The setting is St. Nicholas Parish — a Catholic school and church in the Bronx in 1964, not long after the assassination of President John Kennedy. The nationwide turmoil over pedophilia in the priesthood is still down the road. But those themes, and others, permeate the ongoing conflict — mostly in the office and the church's courtyard behind closed doors (and involving some closed minds).

Guest director Martin Platt's cast keeps the bristling dialogue flowing. In between the somewhat elusive accusations and suspicions there is also some humor. And you don't have to be Catholic to understand what's going on.

Stern, by-the-book principal Sister Aloysius Beauvier, in a riveting performance by Greta Lambert, is at the center of the action. She's the one who insists something wrong is going on and she'll stop at nothing to get to the bottom of it. She also hates ballpoint pens and any hint of frivolous, time-wasting classes. And she's convinced that Father Flynn is up to no good, even though evidence is questionable.

Jeff Talbott is also well cast as likable Father Brendan Flynn. He jots down ideas for sermons (with — gasp! — a ballpoint pen). One of his best sermons, on "Intolerance," is inspired by Sister Aloysius' rantings.

Shannon Koob does a fine job, too, as young Sister James, who is excited about teaching, even though she's not nearly as tough as Sister Aloysius thinks she should be.

There's also a pivotal performance by Tamela Aldridge as Mrs. Muller, the mother of the school's lone black student. She's less concerned about Father Flynn's allegedly inappropriate attention than she is about simply getting the youngster through his classes by June so he can advance to a better high school.

The drama's most heated contention comes down to a battle of wits between Father Flynn and the school's overbearing principal.

But, again, there are no hard-and-fast answers. Just plenty of doubt.

Director Platt brings Shanley's brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning script to life, keeping the various issues in sharp focus.

William Barclay's scenery and Carol Wells-Day's costuming are big pluses.

Sensitivity rating: No profanity, but it may be too intense for those 10 and younger.