The Niagara Blog:
Shaw's Faith Healer, Irish drama at its brutish best!
According to the Vatican, two contemporary yet recently deceased Catholic popes are currently being considered for sainthood. Part of the exacting process involves proof of the performance of miracles. Do you believe in miracles? Well, with perfect timing, you can now take in a performance at Shaw to closer examine this controversial topic.
Brian Friel's play, Faith Healer, appropriately opens with an incantation in shadowy darkness, the lyrical repetition of odd place names that help chart the progress or lack of such by a strange trinity of co-conspirators. They reportedly travel about the remote countryside to obscure UK backwaters in search of prey, or is it to pray, or perhaps hope, or is it really to dread?
One is never quite sure. Is Frank Hardy truly a faith healer as his marquee suggests, performing one-night miraculous stands like an itinerant Jesus, or is he an artist or perhaps just a circus performer? Is Grace, (a nice touch with naming) his wife or mistress leaving a bloody trail of miscarriages and a black-faced stillborn baby as evidence of their perilous journey or is it a campaign or perhaps a pilgrimage?
And Teddy, their cockney manager - does he love Grace or Frank even more as he suggests, and why has he failed to separate business from pleasure, and are Grace and Frank merely one step up from his whippet trained to play the bagpipes, but when given the chance to mate for big buck stud fees, wildly goes for the throat of the bitch instead?
This is a powerful play that demands actors at the top of their craft, and Shaw's Corrine Koslo (Grace), Peter Krantz (Teddy) and Jim Mezon (Frank) are in total control, each exacting long, difficult monologues that begin slowly but gather momentum to burst into painful crescendos and brilliant juxtapositions of words and ideas, placing the audience on edge, much like their very clients who assemble in cheap, dingy halls hoping to heal their broken lives or as Frank dimly suggests, finally remove the last glimmer of hope.
Mezon is superb in the opening monologue, lyrically lobbing the first serve in this complex, shifting memory game, followed by Koslo who begins quietly and then takes us through heart-breaking memories aided with copious amounts of whiskey until we get to Krantz who chain drinks beer and delivers the performance of his life, trying to extract some meaning from this exercise, followed by Mezon again who gets the last word as Frank, revealing vacillations between
chicanery and artistry, describing his finest hour when he "heals" all ten people in a village, but always sliding into alcoholic ineptitude, impotent at the finish, or is he, for his last recollection is that he no longer believes in chance?
Teddy reveals Grace's suicide while Frank ponders whether his gift is for real or not. It is suggested that he is killed near his Irish home after being unable to heal a cripple. He knows that he will not be able to heal this man confined to a wheelchair, and in facing death, feels a sense of homecoming. (He is Irish of course.) It's not clear if Frank is killed; Friel leaves it up to the viewer, just as the viewer must sort out the different recollections of the same events.
Friel's words are as magical and lyrical and drug-infused as his characters, and one adds yet another Irish playwright to the list of those craftsmen who export native pathos, always laced with whiskey, wit and self destruction. Christina Poddubiuk's set is resolutely bleak as is the narrative and Bonnie Beecher's lighting appropriately dim while James Smith's music is stunningly simple, leaving the audience with the words,
"the way you look tonight" emblazoned upon their souls.
Faith Healer is an unforgiving and exacting tale of an Irishman in self-imposed exile, a selfish, hard-drinking, enticing man so distrustful of his "gift" and so troubled with losing it that everyone who comes into his magnetic path must endure his pain. Mezon, Koslo and Krantz epitomize ache and suffering, and at the curtain call with everyone seemingly beaten into submission, Shaw might hand out razor blades as we exit, wondering about the distortions and flawed misrepresentations that form our own histories. Primal scream, anyone?
Those of us raised Catholic will associate the play's incantations of place names akin to
reciting the rosary, navigating each black bead with a steady rhythm designed to assuage our fears. At the end, Frank does walk willingly into the darkness, and he seems to shine for a brief moment, some solace (light?) at the end of his psychic tunnel. We are left with the questions, "Was it all chance? Or skill? Or illusion? Or delusion? Precisely what power did I possess?"
Watching Friel's "Fantastic Francis Hardy, Faith Healer: One Night Only" is hard going but worthwhile work. Like Frank's clients, we all have issues, and I certainly need to see the play again, because Friel's expressions often launch one into anguished memories of our own, and we need to bear down with Mezon, Koslo and Krantz, stay in the precious moment, and not drift into the past. Easier said than done because as Friel himself suggests, "We were always balanced somewhere between the absurd and the momentous."
Faith Healer plays at the
Royal George Theatre June 13 - October 6. Corrine Koslo, Peter Krantz and Jim Mezon make it well worth a visit or a pilgrimage or perhaps an exorcism. They are worthy of each.
Ralph Fiennes in Faith Healer on Broadway