note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark
Set Design by Susan E. Sanders
Lighting Design by Dina Gjersten
Original Music by Barry Wyner
Costume by Design by Molly Trainer
Stage Manager Nicole Jesson
Molly Sweeney.....................Paula Plum
Mr. Rice..............Michael T. McNamara
Frank Sweeney..................Paul O'Brien
Usually with a great play the "best" production is your first, when those uniquely moving emotions first unfold themselves in the mind. But no one does Brian Friel's "Molly Sweeney" without a stunning cast, and great actors always make a play new. So I can say as one seeing three of 'em now that out on The Gloucester Stage is, again, a blindingly beautiful play done by Michael T. McNamara, Paul O'Brien and Paula Plum that you have never seen before.
This is a chamber-music trio in which the instruments never play in unison though they lived the same story. Each one experiences a momentary bright light in their separate shadowy lives that unites them in triumphant but unsustainable happiness, and the memory of that light makes the familiar dark no longer comforting. Each, in trying to give the other what they most desire, makes life impossible --- but the glow of their golden moments together can never fade from their memories, or mine.
This is the most Irish production I've seen. Paula Plum is a shy, spunky, independent lass with a self-effacing lilt on the surface, a fierce love of life underneath. Hers is the most lyrical strain in these interbraiding lives, and even her pauses have music in them.
As her un-young enthusiastic new husband Paul O'Brien is always all in a rush, his eagerness to expound his new-found self-taught wisdoms turning all his "for examples" into digressions, his enthusiasms eternally tripping over poor preparation.
It's Michael T. McNamara as the doctor giving Molly (blind these forty years since she was one) the new worlds of sight --- it's he feels the remorse of eventual failure, even as his pride drives him to try the impossible.
So there is Plum's delicately soaring violin, supported and driven by O'Brien's percussive viola, and commented upon by McNamara's reflective cello. Their music is magnificent.
As befitting a story about seeing, done in three-quarter-round with three chairs and three light-painted background panels, Dina Gjersten's lights make these intertwined monologues a play. Molly starts in total darkness and is first seen as a shadow against light. For her blind world, however, the background panels and the stage glitter with a soft stipple of warm yellow-brown abstraction, with each speaker isolated in light as they are in time. When after her operation Molly Sees, the entire stage blossoms into a unifying hard-edged glow allowing all three to look at one another for the very first time --- but the warmly indistinct panel-patterns are replaced by sharper black lines over white background, still abstract and a little indistinct, coldly enigmatic. The play ends with a fusion of these warm and cold patterns, just as the trio comes grudgingly to terms with re-approaching darkness.
The had of Director Mort Kaplan is totally invisible here, as it always is in perfect productions of any play. Even the playwright disappeared as these three people came alive on stage and spoke, for the very first time, lines I had heard twice before. Their "Molly Sweeney" is new again, four nights a week and every Sunday afternoon, at the Gloucester Stage Company. It's well worth the trip.