Review: Acting Shines in Vivid 'Faith Healer'
Will Demers READ TIME: 2 MIN.
In "Faith Healer," Irish dramatist Brian Friel ("Dancing at Lughnasa," "Molly Sweeney") explores the lives of the title character, Frank Hardy, a complicated man whose gifts may or not be real, his wife, Grace, and his weary manager, Teddy. Centered around a revelatory event in the fictional town of Ballybeg, Ireland, his story is told through four monologues delivered by Grace (Jeanine Kane), Teddy (Brandon Whitehead), and Frank himself (Tony Estrella).
Directed by Irish-born and -raised Donnla Hughes, this tale unfolds in the most powerful way through her choice of actors: Estrella (Artistic Director of the Gamm) flexes his considerable thespian muscles as Frank. He bookends the drama with a riveting story of one night when he apparently healed ten Irish peasants in the middle of nowhere. Friel's style is unmistakable here, as he paints a picture of tragedy.
Kane, effortlessly spouting disjointed memories whilst smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey, is amazing as she tells of her battles with mental health issues and her love for Frank. Nervously trembling as she speaks, she inhabits Grace – you'll not be able to look away during her recounting of the relationship between her and her gifted husband. Whitehead breathes a fresh bit of humor into Teddy, the Cockney stage manager whose weary but delighted efforts recall the night in question with intense emotions.
Friel gives the sense that you are listening to real people recalling a vivid story from their past; his gift of written word quietly unfolds with the considerable talent of Hughes' casting choices. One is aware of only the story and the person telling it, who is surrounded by only the most necessary of props. Patrick Lynch's set design is highlighted by a group of chairs haphazardly stacked in one corner, echoing the erratic retelling of Hardy's adventures by the actors. Subtle lighting choices also give life to each story, as well as a bit of music and sound effects.
Friel's words quietly deliver their powerful examination of three fictional souls that who become intimate with the audience by the end of this incredible night of theater. Expect no loud or bombastic revelations here; the tragic story unfolds almost with a whisper, yet it will not soon be forgotten. This show highlights just what theater is truly about.
"Faith Healer" has a limited run through January 29th at The Gamm Theatre, 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, RI 02886. For information or tickets call 401-723-4266 or visit www.gammtheatre.org.