"The other two performances are as dazzling as they are claustrophobic, both contained to a tiny sliver of a light on a scant portion of stage. Ala Sweeny Todd, Jonathan Kent’s direction boils everything to an immediate, undistracted performance, and both Cherry Jones and Ian McDiarmid rise up to meet the demands of their characters."
Brien Friel’s play, Faith Healer, is not about hope. It’s about hopelessness: three companions, Frank (the faith healer), Grace (his wife), and Teddy (his promoter), who are alone and adrift, even after the twenty-odd years they have spent together. There are very real things that they want—Frank (to be needed), Grace (to be acknowledged), and Teddy (to be loved)—but these things are forever out of reach, even when they are right beside them. The play’s structure, four scene-long monologues (each essentially a one-act play), is therefore quite fitting: together, these stories complete their history, but each appears separately, dismally, and alone. In the end, we realize there is one thing worse than hopelessness: hopeless hope.
As far as the monologues go, it’s a little hard to sit through 130 plus minutes of them, and harder still given the tacit lifelessness of the faith healer’s bookending role. Ralph Fiennes is a talented and engaging actor, but his charisma withers with Frank, a man intent on moping from one illumined portion of a barren stage to another. He’s flat and ethereal, prone to lapsing into a Gaelic gibberish (like Joyce), and in voice and posture, a man who is forever withdrawing into himself. When he speaks of his former miracles, those rarified occasions, it is with a certain level of dramatic flair and wild gesticulation, but this brightness merely reveals him as a shadow. He haunts the stage, monotonous and slight, (as in the film Spider), and the stage, in turn, swallows him up.
The other two performances are as dazzling as they are claustrophobic, both contained to a tiny sliver of a light on a scant portion of stage. Ala Sweeny Todd, Jonathan Kent’s direction boils everything to an immediate, undistracted performance, and both Cherry Jones and Ian McDiarmid rise up to meet the demands of their characters. McDiarmid has the easier role, since as the cockney manager, Teddy, he’s already a likeable rascal, filled with anecdotes and the buoyant flair of a man born on the stage. McDiarmid’s voice is so textured, so intricate, that it’s hard to believe this man also played Palpatine in the Star Wars films, but here he is, telling a tale of unrequited love—how he’s pined for Grace—and the dark underbelly of passion, i.e., what happens when the magic dies.
Cherry Jones, however, is the real center of this play: her Grace is more emotionally raw and connected to feeling than either of the men. She is a great justifier, and attempts to rationalize her own love, even though she knows love is unexplainable. Ms. Jones takes us through all the highs and lows of the relationship, from those great miracles to the disturbing stillborn birth of their child, before dissolving into the hysterics of a woman who realizes, finally, that she will never really exist to the only man she lives for. She’s getting stronger, she says, just before going under for the last time, and that’s just one more of the brilliant lies Faith Healer gives us.
Give that these three act the hell out of this play, the script is still remarkably hard to grasp. One goes about digesting things in nuggets, but the play continues even as the audience struggles to finish with the line before. The most enjoyable part of the evening ends up being the slight-of-hand scene changes, which occur, like magic, in the time it takes a curtain to slide from one end of the stage to the other.
Watching Faith Healer is an exercise: at first in endurance, and then in indulgence. There are so many elliptical asides that the focused realism contributes more to a distracting than an understanding. It’s hard to recommend this play, but I find myself drawn to something in it anyway. Or perhaps that’s just a form of hopeless hope itself: searching for meaning where there is none.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.