By Brian Friel
Produced by Keegan Theatre
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
Irish storytelling is renowned for setting a mood and exploring life’s quirks, aches and heartbreak. Only a daringly bold company could attempt to capture the plucky pathos of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer because of the demanding skill needed to pull it off. Fortunately, this first offering by the ‘New Island Project” at Keegan Theatre has enough courage and talent to work. The newly formed group reflects the high caliber of the often unappreciated talent in the
Not that Faith Healer is an easy experience. In a monologue format similar to Crestfall that recently played at the Studio Theater, three characters give their take on their friendships, affections, and roles as part of the ensemble of Frank Hardy, the so-called “healer,” starting with Frank himself, an arresting performance by Eric Lucas. Dressed in a nearly tattered, battered overcoat, Eric has an effortless appeal and makes excellent use of the sloped stage. There’s a caged, slightly manic edge to him as he describes what comes over him in the healing experience – although they don’t come often, when they do, he’s as blown away by the miraculous event as the afflicted. His bemused sense of self-discovery is very engaging and when he goes into his mantra-like incantations of sorts, he really seems to disconnect to a far away place.
Next is Kerry Waters Lucas as Grace, his loyal wife/mistress, who almost needs no introduction, she’s just one of the finest actors in the metro area who could read the phone book with more finesse and spirit than some could recite the Bard. Why the house isn’t filled nightly just to see these two in action is a mystery to me. From her first moments on stage sitting at a table in a drunken stupor, she demonstrates her enormous stage presence—and that’s before saying a word. Once she rises and takes command with that weathered contralto voice and chiseled cheekbones that could stop traffic, time actually seems to slow down. Yes, she’s that good—the duo alone is worth the trip. Mick Tinder rounds out the ensemble with his cagey personae as a manager/trusted friend “Teddy,” actually love interest to both Frank and Grace – in his heart of hearts. The writing is so keen and developed, there’s nothing overwrought about the unrequited love that Teddy doesn’t dare admit even to himself, but his blind devotion to the couple, all despite his early protests of separating business and personal, is telling and touching. Well played, including exquisite direction by Mark A. Rhea.
The culminating theatrical moment is what happened on a fateful day, described from everybody’s point of view.
Faith Healer is filled with irrepressible beauty. The writing takes centerstage in creating a hazy atmosphere of fractured realities, textured and multilayered descriptions, and altered states of time. The obligatory emotional turmoil laced with lyrical acceptance of life’s passages, including death is no surprise. It’s all in the journey of getting there that makes the piece so powerful, and this trio of finely tuned actors delivers. There’s no seismic shift in this production, and the monologue format reduces the sense of urgency, making it feel somewhat inaccessible. Still, there is a satisfying strength and finality in experiencing the world of Faith Healer that will grace the brave souls who dare to enter in.
Faith Healer runs through December 23rd at Gunston Arts Theater II, 2700 Lang in