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'Doubt': An Understudy Dons the Habit

By Aaron Schoepf


Calling line any time after the off-book date is scary. In my personal experience, it’s made me feel more anxious and frustrated than any other aspect of being in a theater production. I can only imagine how anxious and frustrated Isabel Keating felt when she had to take on the role of Sister Aloysius. Sister Aloysius is an incredibly complex character, making it hard to portray her. This is even true with months of rehearsal. Now imagine you only have days. Although hearing Keating call line on a Broadway stage was a little disjointing, her talent to take on that role with little warning is very admirable.


Doubt by John Patrick Shanley is a Dark Drama set in the Bronx in 1964, following a Catholic School principal, Sister Aloysius, who believes that Father Flynn(The pastor) is abusing one of the students, Donald Muller. The entire play centers around all of the other characters having doubts about Sister Aloysius’s accusation, and her having none. 


The production on February 6, 2024, was incredibly unique. Tayne Daly (originally supposed to play Sister Aloysius) dropped out of the show completely only hours before, leaving Isabel Keating to go on as her understudy. With only a week of observation, she took on one of the hardest roles in theater. Keating called line three times within the first fifteen minutes of the show, which honestly separated me from the world of the play. I had trouble getting immersed back into the play but was eventually able to after Keating got on her feet.


Another key factor is how the other actors had to tip-toe around Keating in terms of their acting. Because Keating was unsure of her lines, the other actors had to not speak too fast, or have too big of a reaction in fear they might mess her up. To me, it felt almost like she was reading the script in her head, just trying to catch up. I didn’t see much of Sister Aloysius at all. We especially saw this when her character was speaking to Father Flynn(Liev Schreiber.) You could almost see Schreiber physically holding back as he gave Keating the space to get her footing. I was a little disappointed because I wanted to see the performance start to come together, and it only felt like an invited dress rehearsal. 

Overall, getting on a Broadway stage with only a week of observational experience is incredibly brave. I could only imagine the panic that set in when she agreed to go on. That panic also sets the tone for the play, which is all about Doubt. I’m sure Keating had many when she “Donned the Habit” and when she stepped out onto that stage. But as the play went on you could see her getting more confident. With all things considered, she is one of the greatest understudies in recent Broadway shows, and I would love to see her with more experience. 

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