Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Molly Sweeney"

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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark

"Molly Sweeney"

by Brian Friel
Directed by Scott Edmiston

Scenic Design by Janie E. Fliegel
Lighting Design by Marc Klureza
Sound by J. Hagenbuckle
Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley
Production Stage Manager Diane Angeline

Molly Sweeney..............Judith McIntyre
Mr. Rice......................Richard Mawr
Frank...........................Paul Kerry

The Nora Theatre Company is alive and well and presenting a luminously lovely production of Brian Freil's "Molly Sweeney" at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre that has every intimate detail lovingly, movingly, perfectly polished.

It's a bare-stage memory-play, with three characters sitting on their own chairs in Marc Klureza's separate pools of light, speaking directly and personally to the audience. They tell their story, even occasionally quoting one another rather than bringing the action and the dialog to life. But they can each hear the shifting narratives, can react with fond, glowing smiles as they remember the scenes that are being described, and how they felt as those events were taking place. Those incredibly minimal, loving responses are what knit these protagonists together.

Molly, you see, went blind within her first year on earth, and only forty years later had a chance at seeing, even indistinctly, the lighted world. It's Judith McIntyre's silent smiles and precisely meaningful gestures that illuminate every second of the play.

And Richard Mawe plays the doctor --- a hasbeen young-turk of a pompous old pedant sunk in self-pity and whiskey --- given the sudden chance to perform only the twenty-first successful sight-restoration ever in the last two thousand years, the sudden chance to be again at the top of his profession. What man could refuse?

And it's all at the insistence of Molly's idealistic, loving husband Frank that it happens at all. Paul Kerry brings him alive, his mop of ginger hair disguising a balding head already surviving a dozen unsuccessful schemes. A self-taught romantic, Frank's mind can never stick to one thought long --- or no; it's more that he throws himself with such passionate intensity into every thought that comes along, willing the real world stubbornly to fulfill each of his original, thoroughly researched but somehow never realized schemes.

Molly had the loving father and the intense individuality to make a brightly beautiful life in her darkness. Now, after forty years, this man who found her, loved her, married her, insists that this once-great surgeon make a miracle and give this woman, however indistinctly, however briefly, a world she can see.

It's the strangeness of it all they bring to reality. It's as strange to Molly as it is to the audience to see how intensely this blind girl loves to swim. And, on the night before the operation, when Molly ecststically describes her dancing, all through the house and never once stumbling or bumping into anything or anyone, those few moments describing furious motion are in total darkness, to make the audience aware of her world, and of its triumphs.

Janie E. Fliegle has backed each figure on the wide, bare stage with a luminous abstraction, and before it a second frame with a transparent screen; it's eventually apparent that these are Molly's eyes, her retinas and corneas, that dominate the simple stage, though like so many ideas in this play it never forces itself upon the consicousness. Just as Director Scott Edmiston must have had something to do with the easy, conversational flow and tellingly understated emotion of the piece. The actors, no matter how gifted, couldn't be making it all up as the evening unfolds.

It just seems that way.


"Molly Sweeney" (till 28 March)
Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide