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Doubt: A Return to Nineveh

by Bobbie Jeffrey

     Massa. “A burning in the bones.” This is what the Old Testament prophets experienced, a Hebrew word defined as a burden, a load, a lifting, an uplifting, the lifting of the soul itself, something carried or brought or borne, an utterance, or an oracle. Massa has the connotation of something that is being pulled up and outalmost something extracted or excised. It was given by God, and the prophets to whom it was given had very little choice as to whether to bear it. Think Jonah and his reticence to go to Nineveh; he didn’t get very far in the other direction, right? And he had a very tough time of it for three days.

We know the language of the prophets was the language of visions, symbols, parables, and metaphors. More than foretelling, it was forthtelling: a call to repentance and a mission to speak in ways that recaptured the imagination. If we believe the arts are often prophetic in the culture, then this production is CU Theatre’s call to Nineveh.

Doubt, intriguingly subtitled “a Parable” by John Patrick Shanley, is Calvary’s fall production and our massa. This award-winning play easily contains the most challenging content Calvary Theatre has ever presented. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the script, it touches on the following: sexual and physical abuse, same sex attraction, racism, and doubt. Not certainty. Not faith. Doubt. We’re heading into groundbreaking territory by addressing some of the subjects that are rarely openly or evenly spoken of on our campus. We anticipate there might be some waves. So why produce this play? Why take this kind of risk?

There has been a burden for years in our Theatre Department to produce this show. I first saw Shanley’s script come to life in 2005 on Broadway with the original cast. That’s fourteen years of burning.

The play is one of the tightest little pieces of dramatic literature I’ve come across in over forty years of my life in theatre. A shorter play performed without intermission, it reverberates across the stage like echoes in a cathedral. Structurally, conceptually, and in the crafting of its words and images, it’s nearly perfect. It became my go-to choice to use every other year in acting class for an assignment in text analysis and it never failed to engage my students in dynamic ways.

So, what will you find when you join us on this journey to Nineveh? The burden we bear is not just for the 700 evangelicals in the Southern Baptist denomination who were sexually abused by clerics or laity over the past twenty years, not just for the 11,000 children referenced in the John Jay Report who were sexually abused by Catholic priests, not just for all the women represented by the #MeToo Movement, but for the loss of innocence of victims by predators formed and twisted by abuse, first perpetrated on them by individuals equally as damaged. This is a hardened cycle.

These crimes are heinous, and their consequences far-reaching. Their ripple effects rock all those within their circumference, and it often takes a lifetime to recover. The suicide rate for those who have experienced sexual abuse is beyond comprehension. Yet victims and perpetrators in these most intimate, most violating of crimes are not beyond the reach of the God we serve. There is a great, existential sadness at the foundation of this play which is not beyond the realm of the Christian experience. Many of us know exactly what this is, and we are privileged to also know and extend the hope and redemption that pulls us back from the edge of the abyss. It is with that promise and its light that we approach the themes of this play.

This play is not about sexual abuse. The abuse is part of the context of our story, but the play itself is, as the title suggests, about doubt—a different consequence. This play is not about right or wrong, not about the certainty of the black and white of a nun’s habit or a priest’s collar and cassock; it’s about doubt.

When you come with us on our journey to Nineveh, we ask you to remember how Jesus used parables. His parables were stories illustrating a moral or spiritual lesson. We ask you to listen carefully to the words of the play and think deeply about its title. In his forward, our playwright says the beginning of change is the moment of doubt. What lesson does this modern parable hold for us?

The play asks many questions. Christians don’t shy away from the hard questions. We can ask them, too. We have all experienced crises of faith. Is it wrong to doubt? How do we handle uncertainty? Is there a difference between doubt and unbelief? Does doubt have a purpose in our faith journey? Where do we go when assaulted by doubt? How do we learn to hope again?

We invite you to bear our massa with us as we return to Nineveh, where hope and forgiveness were given in a damnable place and compassion was born under a worm-eaten tree.


For now we see in a mirror dimly,
But then face to face;

Now I know in part, but then I will know fully
just as I also have been fully known.
I Corinthians 13:12 (NASB)

Due to the sensitive subject matter, we recommend this production to an audience of those twelve and up.

Pre-show talks focusing on the context of the play and its potentially triggering subject of sexual abuse will be held at the times listed below during all performances. Licensed practical therapists, biblical counselors, and literature will be available along with dramaturgical context as we discuss these important issues. The focus during the talkbacks following each performance will touch on the themes of the play. These talks will involve director, cast, crew, dramaturgs, theologians, faculty, and counselors during what we hope will be an animated discussion. We would welcome you to join us for a sensitive examination of the themes of this production.

Thursday, 10/24
–  10:20 a.m.-10:50 a.m. Pre-show talk
–  12:30 p.m.-1:00 p.m. Talkback
Friday 10/25 and Saturday 10/26
–  6: 50 p.m.-7:20 p.m. Pre-show talk
–  9:00 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Talkback
Sunday 10/27
–  1:20 p.m.-1:50 p.m. Pre-show talk
–  3:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m. Talkback

Matinee performances on October 24 at 11:00 a.m. and October 27 at 2:00 p.m.
Evening performances on October 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets now on sale!  Please click here to visit our Box Office.