Wednesday, July 31, 2013

FAITH HEALER a tedious Irish tale of depression at The Shaw

Irish authors like James Joyce, Sean O’Casey, and John Synge write of the depression, alcoholism and ingrained bleakness of the Irish.  Brian Friel, who is considered by many to be the greatest living English-language dramatist is also a writer who showcases his kin.  He is hailed as the Irish Chekhov due to putting the spotlight realistically on the Irish.  He is a prolific writer, having penned more than thirty plays.

Friel often writes of the “village of the mind, more a depository for remembered or invented experience than a geographical location.”  He also alludes to the itinerant “shanachie,” the teller of tales who wanders from town to town supporting himself by setting up in a town hall or church rectory and charging for his relating of stories.  Often the tales are full of Irish blarney and incorporate outrageous lies.  Friel, himself admits that, “not even I can believe what has or has not happened.”

FAITH HEALER, which is one of Friel’s lesser works, consists of four monologues, spoken by three of the play’s subjects:  Frank Hardy, the faith healer, his wife, Grace, and Teddy, his cockney manager.

Each of the monologues tells Frank’s story, including an incident in a Welsh village when he supposedly cured ten people.  The tales, of course, view Frank and his life from different perspectives.  There are references to whether Grace is really his wife or is his mistress, whether he fathered a child with her, whether the faith healer has any real powers, and why the record of Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” is played at each of his healing sessions. 

We not only find out about Grace’s suicide, but of Frank’s possibly being killed for his lack of ability to heal a cripple.  As often is the case in Irish depressive tales, Frank looks at his impending death with a sense of homecoming, but we are never sure whether the death really happened.

The play has met with limited success.  Its Broadway run lasted only twenty performances.  The lack of notoriety is not surprising.  The play is all talk and no action.  The repeated telling of the same tale three times doesn’t hold attention.  The lack of humor or drama also adds to the problem.

Shaw’s production, under the direction of Craig Hall, rambles on, tediously, lacking the material to captivate attention.  There was a considerable exiting of audience following the first act. 

Jim Mezon, who appears in the first and fourth monologue, is intent in his narration.  Corrine Koslo, who is forced to present an overly long speech, seems distant from the material, sitting almost motionless in a chair for the entire speech.  Only Peter Krantz, as Frank’s manager, adds animation and a little ironic humor to his segment.

The set design and lighting is as bland as the material, but, that’s probably their purpose.

Capsule judgement:  Brian Friel’s FAITH HEALER is definitely not a play for everyone.  It fails to grab and hold attention, giving the director and actors a difficult performance task.  It’s unclear why the artistic team at The Shaw chose this play when much better Friel scripts are available.

THE FAITH HEALER runs at the Shaw Festival through October 6, 2013 in the Royal George Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 1-800-511-7429.