Faith Healer Leaves You Dramatically Satisfied & Personally Unsettled
Have you ever noticed what happens when you ask three or four people to explain an incident they have just witnessed? Often, their individual recollections have very little in common, with the exception of the location or the people involved in said incident. The human mind recalls, in many situations, what it wants to remember—often in the order it wishes to remember, and more often than not, how they need to process the incident for their own mental well-being.
Brian Friel’s 1979 play “Faith Healer” is a unique and unusually moving piece. The play is written as four distinct monologues performed by three characters. “Faith Healer” centers around Francis Hardy, a second-rate Irish faith healer, his wife Grace, and manager Teddy. It follows them as they travel the countryside of Wales and Scotland, through a series of impoverished villages where Hardy performs his healing for the often desperate villagers. He frequently provides nothing more than a distraction for the people but occasionally, rarely, actually heals someone.
Hardy opens the play and returns for the final monologue, outlining their journey through the countryside—often living on the edge of poverty, spending time living out of the van in which they travel, and ultimately returning home to Ireland. Frank Hardy spends his time pondering, “Am I endowed with a unique and awesome gift, or am I a con man?” Following Hardy is his wife Grace, who offers a very different perspective of their time on the road. Finally, we meet Teddy, the agent who attempts to keep this ragtag band together and employed.
Barrington Stage presents this unique, gripping production directed by the recently retired founding Artistic Director of Barrington Stage, Julianne Boyd. Boyd leads her cast of three enormously talented actors, each of them Barrington Associate Artists. Christopher Innvar is Frank Hardy, Gretchen Egolf his wife Grace, and Mark H. Dold as Teddy. Boyd allows each performer to create for the audience an honest, gripping, albeit depressing, reality of their past.
Innvar’s portrayal of Hardy is certainly the most conflicted of the three. Speaking to the audience as a trusted confidant, he exposes his past, mulls over his few triumphs, and brings them into his world of failures. Hardy returns to the stage after the three have presented their stories, almost bookending the journey. Egolf’s portrayal of Grace is a conflagration of bitterness, love, and regret. From her nervous chain-smoking to her drinking, she is by far the most captivating character, and Egolf fully embodies her role. Dold appears as the most dispassionate of the three. Appearing last, you get a sense that he is there to set the story straight. His character is perhaps the most accurate, though that would need to be decided upon by the viewer.
From a production standpoint, the show is simplistic. Luciana Stecconi has designed a set that is cold, barren, and depressing, much like the characters that inhabit it. The wide plank floor, the almost broken-down look of the scattered furniture, and the dull, fog-like mist in the background in maudlin greens and grays all seem to want to swallow up the characters in their misery. Jen Caprio’s perfectly suited costumes could have come from a Salvation Army thrift store. David Lander’s lighting and Fabian Obispo’s sound design beautifully frame this somber picture.
Written by Brian Friel, who is largely considered by many to be the preeminent modern Irish playwright, his work will enthrall you. You will become totally absorbed in the drama and lives of the characters. The excellent cast and direction will draw you into their lives, immersing you in their pathos, pain, and angst.
“Faith Healer” will leave you questioning many things as you exit the theatre—how you translate life experiences to others and the accuracy of your own reality as witnessed by others.
Barrington Stage’s “Faith Healer” on the St. Germain Stage in Pittsfield is running through August 27. For ticket information, visit www.barringtonstageco.org or contact the box office at 413-236-8888.