With plays like "My Fair Lady" scheduled for August and a local project titled "Bennington Goes To War" running in October, this year's Oldcastle season includes a variety of timeless, well-known shows and exciting new productions with a local flavor. Running through next Sunday, June 22, "Doubt: A Parable" by John Patrick Shanley is one of the most famous contemporary plays that Oldcastle has presented recently, opening on Broadway in 2005 and winning both the Tony Award for Best Play and Pulitzer Prize for Drama that same year.

Audiences might recognize "Doubt" from its 2008 film adaptation starring Meryl Streep and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, but seeing the play presented live is an entirely different experience from the film.

Christine Decker plays Sister Aloysius and Tim Dugan is Father Flynn in "Doubt: A Parable" at Oldcastle Theatre in Bennington.
Christine Decker plays Sister Aloysius and Tim Dugan is Father Flynn in "Doubt: A Parable" at Oldcastle Theatre in Bennington. (Jack McManus)
Shanley hangs a thick cloud of tension over each conversation and confrontation in his script, and the audience really can feel that weight as the story unfolds in front of them -- the physical presence of those emotions just don't exist in a movie theater.

Of course, this feeling also wouldn't be possible without great actors, and the cast of Oldcastle's "Doubt" certainly qualifies. Following up her performance as Grandma Moses in Oldcastle's biographical show "Grandma Moses: An American Primitive" last Fall, Christine Decker's portrayal of Sister Aloysius is a major highlight of "Doubt." She effortlessly instills the school principal with unwavering conviction and the tenderness of a brick wall, pulling off the "scary Catholic nun" stereotype with such ease that Sister Aloysius doesn't feel a bit like a stock character (which, of course, she isn't).

Her fiery conviction doesn't just frighten the other characters -- even the audience seemed nervous to be in a room with her. I certainly felt a wave a panic when Decker looked toward my section of the auditorium, and an equal feeling of relief when she looked away. To their credit, the other three cast members each matched Decker's intensity in their one-on-one scenes, building to a few impressive moments of emotional outburst.

In a play that leaves so much unspoken and implied, the show's meticulous attention to detail really kept it cohesive, understandable and engaging. Certain scenes benefited greatly from small lighting details, like moments when the stage was just lit from one side, creating ominous silhouettes and long shadows. Other lighting details helped establish the setting, imitating the look of sunlight passing through stained glass windows in the church or implying other features of religious architecture.

Although the show is dominated by solemn moments and conversations, it moves quickly enough to stay exciting and the script continually introduces new perspectives on the action, keeping the audience's minds running from the opening scene to the final bow.

Oldcastle's production of "Doubt" runs this afternoon, Saturday, June 14, at 2 p.m., tonight at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, June 15, at 2 p.m. and next weekend on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights as well as Thursday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Jack McManus is the Banner's arts editor. Contact him at jmcmanus@benningtonbanner.com. Follow on Twitter @Banner_Arts