note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Beverly Creasey
The subject matter of the Nora Theatre Company's "Molly Sweeney" might have made for an engaging evening of debate. It did make a surprisingly readable case history by neurologist Oliver Sachs. In Irish playwright Brian Freil's capable hands, it's a moving and thought-provoking drama. What a clever play it is, working and reworking the subject of blindness in myriad ways: as a medical condition...as a psychological state...as a defense mechanism...and as a spiritual reality. Seeing, Freil demonstrates, is not understanding --- or believing, for that matter.
Freil has composed a dramatic fugue for three voices: the fearless blind woman, her rambling (literally and figuratively) husband, and the dispirited doctor who hopes he can revive his career and spirit by restoring her sight.
Freil covers the ground so skillfully, you hardly notice the anatomy lesson or the life life lesson --- about the gulf between the sighted and the tactile world, about instinctual imprinting and cerebral connectors. It's all utterly fascinating because we get to know these three characters from the inside out. The play is totally compelling even though they never speak directly to each other and rarely touch. Friel relies upon us to create the rest of the play in our imagination and we do feel that we've seen Molly and her husband's first date, or the doctor's bittersweet reunion with his ex-wife.
The Nora's production is exquisite. Scott Edmiston's direction is so elegantly understated that when Molly finally wanders freely among the screens, we ache for her confusion and we feel her shadows. Edmiston allows us to understand what she will be losing by gaining sight.
Judith McIntyre is a luminous Molly, through whose "eyes" we see a whole village, like the widower O'Neill atop a table reciting Robert Service. Her Molly radiates light from every fiber of her body, a startling contrast to her fixed gaze. Through McIntyre we know why Molly doesn't "need" to see.
Paul Kerry is impishly winning as Molly's irresponsible but charming husband, not an easy task. We might have hated him for "using" her as his cause celebre. Richard Mawe provides the dark counterpoint to the bright, hopeful couple we first meet. Mawe lets us see the anguish residing within his heart. J. Hagenbuckle's sound design of plaintive Irish laments and Janie Fliegel's blurry flowers set a melancholy mood; Marc Klureza's supple lighting gives "Molly Sweeney" its haunting and lasting resonance.