There is certainly no doubt about the sharply drawn characters and intense conflict in John Patrick Shanley's play "Doubt."

Amid the backdrop of a nation still reeling from Kennedy's assassination and divided on the subject of civil rights, this 1964 drama focuses on a small Catholic school in the Bronx.

Here Sister Aloysius challenges church authority by accusing a popular priest of inappropriate behavior with the school's first black student, a young boy of 12. The nun's strident conviction of the priest's wrongdoing reverberates through the school affecting many, including a young nun and the mother of the boy.

Presented by Contra Costa Christian Theater and directed by Alexander Murphy, the 90-minute drama receives a thoughtful presentation from its fine cast of four. Noelle Arms as Sister James gives a sensitive performance as her character's youthful enthusiasm changes into a more somber understanding.

Playing the tougher-than-nails Sister Aloysius is Beth Chastain, who creates an undeniable tension in her scenes with Father Flynn, played with just the right amount of charm and increasing desperation by Eddie Peabody.

A highlight of the production is Michelle Ianiro (Mrs. Muller). Costumed in a red suit (a nice contrast to the black habits worn by the nuns), Ianiro skillfully combines her fear for her son with a steely determination to keep him at the school.

While the set design allows for seamless changes in locale, it also keeps Chastain in profile, which, with her nun's garb, makes it difficult to see her face or, at times, hear her when she's seated at her desk.

"Doubt" is performed at 2:30 and 8 p.m. Nov. 17, at Cue Productions Live, 1835 Colfax St., Concord. Tickets are available at the door or in advance by going to www.ccchristiantheater.org.

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    "Wilder Times" is anything but if you assume the title refers to a play chronicling outrageous or even exciting behavior. In fact, the collection of four one-act plays running at Berkeley's Aurora Theatre through Dec. 9 looks at Thornton Wilder's concept of time and how people move through it.

    The first two plays "Infancy" and "Childhood" were written in 1961. Both demonstrate infants and children's frustration with grown-ups as they long for more knowledge while the adults long for freedom from the demands of parenthood.

    "Infancy" provides some humor with oversized baby carriages and adults portraying the demanding little tykes while "Childhood" moves into more serious territory.

    Written in 1931, the third play, "The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden," encapsulates the early 1930s as a family travels to a married daughter's home while the final play "The Long Christmas Dinner," also written in 1931, fast forwards through three generations of Christmas dinners in the same home.

    None of the four works feature major conflict or stirring actions; rather they are reminiscent of a documentary exploring American characters living ordinary lives.

    But, what isn't ordinary is the brilliant work of the seven actors: Heather Gordon, Gwen Kingston, Soren Oliver, Marcia Pizzo, Stacy Ross, Patrick Russell and Brian Trybom.

    Under the skillful direction of Barbara Oliver, the performers transform into different characters for each play and, for "The Long Christmas Dinner," their characters age from children to adults to old age literally in the blink of an eye -- or rather a blink of designer Jim Cave's lights.

    I found it delightful to watch these talented performers subtly change mannerisms as their Christmas dinner advanced through time and their characters aged and died. Oliver separates the various stories with nursery rhymes, folk tunes and original music by sound designer/music director Chris Houston.

    At 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3, the Aurora offers a free reading of playwright Gertrude Stein's short plays. Led by education director Michael Mansfield, the evening will explore the parallels with "Wilder Times" to reveal how she influenced and conspired with Wilder to create a new American dramatic form.

    For more information on the reading or to purchase tickets to "Wilder Times," call 510-843-4822 or go to www.auroratheatre.org.

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    PlayGround playwrights recently took a trip to Tao House, Eugene O'Neill's former Danville home, in search of inspiration. The group will be developing O'Neill-inspired short plays for its monthly presentation at 8 p.m. Nov. 19, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

    The evening includes staged readings of six 10-minute plays on the topic "Haunted by the Past." Preperformance discussions giving a behind-the-scenes perspective begin at 7:10 p.m. For more information, go to http://playground-sf.org.

    Contact Sally Hogarty at sallyhogarty@gmail.com.