BY CATHY MATHIAS
Riverside Theatre’s intense production of “Faith Healer” puzzles, mystifies and intrigues.
“Faith Healer” was written in 1979 by Ireland’s foremost playwrights, Brian Friel, who has been hailed as the greatest living dramatist in the English language. The play is presented via three actors’ monologues. It centers on charismatic Irish faith healer Frank Hardy, who travels beleaguered towns in the British Isles claiming the power to heal. With him are Grace Hardy and his thread-bare manager, Teddy.
As they tell about their lives, we “see” Grace’s angry father, Frank’s dead mother, the groups of invalids, the healings, the old van, the grassy field, and the pub. With our imaginations in overdrive, we try to piece together the truth behind Frank’s faith healing tour so many years ago.
Frank Hardy, beautifully portrayed by Colin Lane, jokingly says his message could be more easily received by those in the Celtic countries. He sounds as if he’s speaking in tongues when he rattles off the names of those Celtic towns. He’s in turn joyous, triumphant, and riddled by doubt and fear as he delivers the first then the final monologue. Lane has performed in major regional theatres including American Repertory Theatre, the Guthrie, Mark Taper Forum and in many films.
Laurie Dawn plays Grace Hardy in a performance that ratchets up the intensity. She is heartbreakingly accurate as an Irish woman trying to get on with her life but forever tortured by her love for a man who could look right past her. She says she was his wife but accepted it when he told the crowds she was his “mistress” for the titillating effect. Her devotion to him was complete; she was nothing without him. Laurie Dawn is from New York City and you may have seen her work in Off-Broadway plays, the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” and the film “Revolutionary Road.”
Lucius Houghton portrays the Cockney manager, Teddy, and when he comes on stage after the intermission, he is a welcome bit of comic relief in his old satin smoking jacket. He’s energetic, passionate, amiable and seemingly the most trustworthy. Houghton gets plenty of laughs for his story about his bagpipe-playing whippet dog. Houghton is a founding member and actor with North Carolina Shakespeare Festival.
Director Allen D. Cornell has designed a simple wooden platform intertwined with twigs and branches evocative of the rural settings in which the trio traveled. A criss-cross of wooden beams mimics the rafters of a church building and the cross of crucifixion.
This is a dark, brooding and slightly funny Irish play that doesn’t prepare any of us for the shock at the end.
SIDE O’ GRITS:
“Faith Healer” runs through April 14 at Riverside Theatre, 3250 Riverside Park Drive, Vero Beach. Tickets are general and for students under 17 years. Call 772-231-5860 or visit www.riversidetheatre.com.