Brian Friel's Molly Sweeney is a big play in a small package. Live Theatre Workshop has opened that package very carefully and has allowed its contents to spill onto the stage simply, with honesty and clarity. The result is a very good production of a very good play.
Friel is a modern Irish playwright who has written more than 30 plays, although many are familiar with a scant few, with Dancing at Lughnasa perhaps his most well known. His work covers a lot of ground thematically and in form, but they always possess an accessible depth.
Molly Sweeney certainly gives us plenty to think about, although we see the characters as real people we can relate to. Then, as his story unfolds, it reverberates with intriguing, complex and disturbing questions. It's excellent storytelling.
Molly (Carley Elizabeth Preston) is a 40-year-old woman, who was born with sight but lost it at a very early age. However, her world is not one where something is missing. It is full of loving relationships with people, a unique relationship with the natural world—a way of perceiving the world that gives her a satisfying sense of its richness, in which she feels no deprivation or loss.
Into Molly's world come two men: Frank, a hyper, relentlessly curious and talkative husband who can't hold a job (Steve Wood), and an aging has-been of an ophthalmologist, once a rising star in his field but who now lives by himself in a backwoods town and drinks too much (Jeff Scotland). Frank latches onto a subject like a rat terrier might latch onto an ankle, and he believes that Molly's sight could be restored. So he insists that they explore his ideas with the doctor. The doctor sees that the desire for sight restoration is chiefly Frank's, but as he deals with the two, he sees an opportunity to redeem his career if he is successful, although the chances are pitifully slim that he can make Molly see. On the other hand, "What does she have to lose?" is his foreboding question at the end of the first act.
The format in which Friel delivers his story underscores it themes. The characters never speak to one another; the entire story is told in monologues. So we "see" three perspectives about who these characters are and how they judge what is happening. Friel carefully weaves the monologues to give momentum, to complement and contrast and thus set up a sense of conflict. There is a clear, but clearly different, arc for each of the characters as they begin to bear witness to issues which had been hidden from them. Molly herself undergoes the most dramatic changes, and it is painful to watch her struggle to adapt to an entirely different way to perceive, and therefore to experience, the world, reality and herself.
Director Pat Timm has a solid cast to interpret Friel's characters. Preston gives us a lovely, sympathetic Molly who, quite simply, breaks our hearts. Wood rattles our nerves with his constant yammering, but we appreciate his desire to know the world and his ceaseless but pointless reading and studying and scheming to create enterprises and develop theories. Scotland gives a good reading of the doctor, but he seems much more well put together than the person he tells us he is. He's lonely and a drunk and beaten down, but he doesn't give us many hints in his demeanor that that is the case.
The attempts to give us an Irish accent are, at most, inconsistent, and are unequally rendered by the three. Wood's is as full blown as is his character; Preston has merely a suggestion of one. And Scotland's is mostly non-existent; his is referred to by the others as a "sophisticated" accent, which might mean not having one, I guess. But the inconsistencies do stand out.
Friel gives us a fascinating story which challenges us to question our assumed judgments about perception and how perception shapes our identities. To tamper with the forces that create identity, even with the best of intentions, can have surprising consequences. LTW tells this story very well.
Presented by Live Theatre Workshop
7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m., Sunday, through Aug. 30
Live Theatre Workshop 5317 E. Speedway Blvd.
$20, Discounts available.
2 hours 30 minutes with intermission
327- 4242; livetheatreworkshop.org