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Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008

Faithful Recollections

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Frank Hardy is a man plagued by many demons, among which are alcohol, women and ironically faith healing. His is “a craft without an apprenticeship…a vocation without a ministry.” Is he a medicine man? Performer? Con artist? The answer lies somewhere in the well-staged production of Brian Friel’s play, Faith Healer, which opened at Next Act Theatre last weekend. Frank, his wife Grace (or is she really his mistress?) and their manager Teddy travel to remote villages in Wales and Scotland for one-night-only appearances.

There, Frank attempts to heal “the crippled, the deaf and the barren,” all the while soothing his conscience, when it does surface, with drink amid the bouts of self-doubt. But Faith Healer challenges the audience to listen carefully over the course of two-and-a-half hours and accept storytelling as action. Friel has constructed four individual monologues for his three characters, none of whom appear onstage together until curtain call. This separation only exemplifies their emotional and social isolation. And with Frank given the first and last monologues as bookends to this dark tale, truth is completely subjective, found only in the recollection of the storyteller.

Faith Healer focuses on perception and memory, especially as each character contradicts the others in recalling the past.

“Let’s say I did it because I could do it,” boasts Frank in a confident moment recalling his healing powers, inevitably weighed down by the realization that “I always knew when nothing was going to happen.” Each speaks separately of the sacrifices made to be with the others, all of it contradicting the others’ versions and leading to a dark end for each of them.

As Frank, Jonathan Smoots perfectly embodies the tired, weary man whose special talents are just as great as his inner torments. This part was made for this fine actor and worth the challenge of listening to four monologues. Fortunately the well-chosen cast is rounded out by David Cecsarini’s multi-faceted portrayal of Teddy, whose lighthearted, upbeat view of events brings much-needed comic relief. And Mary MacDonald Kerr, who makes Grace vulnerable yet tough, provides a range of emotion without lapsing into pity.

Director Ed Morgan keeps Faith Healer connected throughout the separate stories, enhanced by Rick Graham’s balanced set design of simple levels and a few well-placed props accentuating the storytelling. Faith Healer provides no easy answers but rather creates questions about truth—and our never-ending search for it. It runs through March 2 at the Off- Broadway Theatre.

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