'Faith Healer' Tackles The Murky Realm Of Pomo Reality With Zeal.
By Dave Irwin
REALITY, IN Postmodernist thought, is a choice rather than a given. Irish playwright Brian Friel's Faith Healer explores the concept that not only is reality different for different people, but that people make some very bad choices in the realities they select.
As the inaugural presentation by Fitful Tulip Productions, Faith Healer is a rich work finely acted, especially given the demands it makes on its mere cast of three. Directed and produced by Mitch Goddard, the play requires exceptional solo skills; none of the troupe is onstage at the same time, leaving each actor to command audience attention alone with his or her monologue. The only weakness is that Friel, in his 1979 work, didn't quite know when to stop writing. He adds an unnecessary coda that dilutes his play's emotional climax. Still, there is much to love in Faith Healer, especially its cyclical structure and enlightening disclosures as each character succeeds the previous one.
The story revolves around an itinerant faith healer named Frank Hardy (Ted Parks), his companion Grace (Carlisle Ellis) and his manager Teddy (Clark Andreas Ray). They've spent 20 years traveling by van through Wales and Scotland, blurring the lines between miracle and con.
Frank opens with a sonorous recitation of the towns they've been through--a display that proves that the very sound of Welsh and Gaelic has a hypnotic beauty. Eventually, this travelogue litany repeated by each of the characters focuses and refocuses on several key locations, returning to the night where Hardy may have miraculously healed a group of Welsh farmers; where his and Grace's still-born son was buried by the side of the road; where the Irish locals turned murderous for his being unable to cure their crippled friend.
Parks gives a performance that, while at first seemingly restrained, hits just the right tone as we realize the erstwhile con man is as mystified as anyone by his inconsistent gift. Moreover, his presence in the face of soul-numbing suffering and absolute hopelessness has taught him to hide his emotions with seething determination, and a wistful distortion of fact. Parks, who has considerable film and TV credits, has been absent from Tucson theatre for three years; this is a welcome return.
Next comes Grace, who provides a much different view of the preceding facts. An intelligent woman with a law degree, she's given up everything to follow Frank, living off the crumbs of his stolid demeanor. With him gone, she finds herself an emotional husk, unable to find meaning in life without their dysfunctional relationship. Pacing, shouting, weeping, Ellis gives a riveting performance that turns up the heat after the restrained presentation by Parks.
However, Teddy remembers the events even more differently. Here, Friel is truly inspired as this third character pulls together strands of events now familiar to draw an entirely new conclusion. Ray, who also has extensive TV and film credits and works as a professional stunt man, ups the ante on Ellis' performance by snarling, screaming and sobbing. He gives a shattering, over-the-top performance that left several audience members in tears as the monstrosity and pain of the three life-long companions is laid bare.
At this point, Friel's gift seems to leave him. Despite having achieved closure and an exceptional catharsis, the playwright resurrects Frank for one more monologue. Though mildly illuminating, it feels unnecessary; and after the tour-de-force of Ray's presentation, its presentation falls flat.
Despite this misstep, Friel (best known for his 1992 Tony-winning Dancing at Lughnasa), gives a deeply literate, highly poetic script that is all the more wondrous for eschewing dialogue.
Goddard, founder of Fitful Tulip Productions, has previously directed for DamesRocket and Zero Theatre, and also has worked in TV and film production. He started out as stage manager at Borderlands, and draws from the same wellspring of synergy and excellence for which that company is well known. This is Goddard's first stint at producing. If subsequent works fulfill the promise demonstrated here, this will again raise the ante on quality community theatre in the Old Pueblo.
Faith Healer, directed by Mitch Goddard, continues through May 9 in the Cabaret Theatre at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and at 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 general admission, $8 for senior citizens and students. For reservations and information, call 743-9313.
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