TRAVERSE CITY -- When a nun suspects a priest of inappropriate contact with a Catholic school student, she launches the tense conflict that makes "Doubt: A Parable" an actor's delight.

The play, made more famous by the recent success of the movie adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, will open at the Old Town Playhouse in Traverse City on Thursday.

"It's very much a thinking person's play," said Maria McKane, who portrays the devout, dedicated disciplinarian Sister Aloysius who is sure of the Rev. Flynn's guilt.

Set in 1964, the play's conclusion does not bring resolution, as its title suggests.

"You get to explore the motivation that this nun has. She is absolutely certain that there has been impropriety. She is absolutely convinced even though she has no evidence, and the priest maintains his innocence throughout," said director Mychelle Hopkins.

The embattled Flynn is portrayed by local theater veteran Jan Dalton, who is drawn to dramatic characters.

"This was a play that I instantly fell in love with because it has such great roles," he said.

Writer John Patrick Shanley also directed the movie version, which Dalton viewed as part of his research for the role. Hopkins and McKane have not seen the movie.

"I don't want to see the movie because I don't want to see the likes of Meryl Streep and then have to go home and cry," said McKane, who plays the same part as Streep, who earned an Academy Award nomination for her turn in the film.

Hopkins didn't want the movie to influence any of the choices she made.

"When I am directing, it's easier for me to come at it with a clean slate," she said.

The play poses the question: "How much do we know about anything, anymore?" Dalton said. Audiences members will likely try to answer that and discuss the play after the show. Some theaters that have staged "Doubt" even asked the audience to weigh in on the priest's guilt or innocence.

"When they leave, they'll probably say 'Did you think he did it?'" McKane said.

For Hopkins, one message the play relays is "that doubt is what sustains us" and that "absolute certainty is not all that it's cracked up to be."

The production also stars Amy Ruopp and Tamara DePonio and runs through April 25. General admission tickets to the studio theatre production are $11. For tickets, call the box office at 947-2210 or visit the Web site www.oldtownplayhouse.com.

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