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Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008

More Monologues

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Next week, Next Act Theatre opens its production of Faith Healer, a drama by Irish playwright Brian Friel starring David Cecsarini, Mary MacDonald Kerr and Jonathan Smoots. For a show featuring only three actors, Next Act couldn’t have asked for a better trio.

Jonathan Smoots naturally gravitates toward the center of a stage, with a powerful voice and charisma that people associate with a seasoned professional. The fact that he’s been able to pull himself away from the center of the stage as effectively as he has in the recent past is a testament to his skill as an actor. He’s been impressively peripheral in a number of roles with the Milwaukee Rep and at the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, where he serves as a core company member. Here he plays the title character, an itinerant Irish faith healer named Frank Hardy.

Mary MacDonald Kerr, who plays Frank’s longtime lover, Grace, also brings a dazzling stage presence. Smart and versatile, Kerr hasn’t had a recent role that was anything less than memorable. Notable appearances of late include a multi-role turn in Renaissance Theaterworks’ String of Pearls last spring, a powerfully sympathetic per- formance as Anna in Renaissance’s production of Burn This in 2006 and a remarkably nuanced performance in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of Joe Egg that same year. Kerr’s most recent work for the stage has been as a director—though it’s always nice to see her name attached to a program, it’s even better when such a magnetic presence plays an acting role.

In addition to being Next Act’s producing artistic director, David Cecsarini is an accomplished actor. He brings a charismatic, sharp-witted, earthy ruggedness to the stage. In recent memory, he’s played an educated convict, an FBI agent trailing John Lennon and a disenchanted Vietnam vet, among other things. In Faith Healer, he plays Teddy, Frank’s Cockney manager.

Any production featuring these three actors should be a lot of fun, although there’s a catch: They’re all onstage in the same production, but they’re not all onstage together. They never actually speak a word of dialogue to one another. Friel’s Faith Healer is a narrative set of monologues.

It should be pointed out that there have been a number of monologues at local theaters lately. Boulevard opened its season with Tom Dillon in the Will Eno monologue Thom Paine. Milwaukee Chamber featured an impressive cast in its production of Alan Bennett’s monologue series, Talking Heads. And Renaissance Theaterworks recently opened another production of its monologue-infused Red Pepper Jelly. What separates Friel’s Faith Healer from the rest of these is the single narrative spoken from three different perspectives. With a cast this talented, Next Act should be able to weave it together seamlessly enough that it won’t feel like another set of monologues. Faith Healer runs Jan. 31 through March 2 at the Off-Broadway Theatre.
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