Written in 2004, John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt came about at a time when the Catholic Church was under particularly harsh scrutiny for alleged child sex abuse scandals perpetrated by church workers, and the lack of prosecution for these workers by Church authorities. A young Irish Catholic from the Bronx in the 1960s (like the students at the fictional St. Nicholas School), Shanley expresses both gratitude for the nuns who watched over him during his education and awareness of the problematic and troubling hierarchy of the Church structure. However, Shanley is quick to note in interviews that Doubt is not a play about sex abuse, but rather a play about moral certainty: “you must accept that you may never know the truth or falsity of a story, of a scenario . . . [a]nd yet actions must be taken if you feel the imperative, if you feel that you have the clarity of thought and know what should be done.” Shanley purposefully raises far more questions in this 90-minute one-act drama than he answers, stating, “You must accept that you may never know the truth or falsity of a story…You may come out of my play uncertain. You may want to be sure. Look down on that feeling. We’ve got to learn to live with a full measure of uncertainty. There is no last word. That’s the silence under the chatter of our time.”
The first production of Doubt opened off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club on November 3, 2004, and transferred to Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre in March 2005, where it ran until July 2006. The cast included Cherry Jones (Sister Aloysius), who won the 2005 Tony Award for Best Actress for her performance, Brian F. O’Byrne (Father Flynn), Heather Goldenhersh (Sister James), and Adriane Lenox (Mrs. Muller).
In 2008, Shanley adapted Doubt into a film, which he also directed. The all-star cast included Meryl Streep (Sister Aloysius), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Father Flynn), Amy Adams (Sister James), and Viola Davis (Mrs. Muller). All four actors received Actor and Actress nominations at the Academy Awards.