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The Faith Healer

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

The subject of The Faith Healer, the early 20th century play by William Vaughn Moody that is receiving a warm new production at the Metropolitan Playhouse, perhaps predictably, is faith.

It deals with many kinds of faith, though; faith in God of course, but faith in ourselves, and faith in others as well. The faith healer of the title, Ulrich Michaelis (played by Scott Barrow), is not only a man apparently capable of performing miracles of healing, but also someone who allows others to believe in themselves.

This, as the play suggests, is healing of an equally important sort, and not one that the play shies away from. Though the issues with which The Faith Healer deals (health, love, religion, etc.) are time-trusted and familiar, it deals in depth with these topics only as far as they relate to faith and belief. You'll find no medical or spiritual pontificating, but a few answers and even more questions. The play leaves much unexplained - though the Metropolitan Playhouse has done much, you'll have to fill in a few blanks yourself.

In terms of specifics, though, Michaelis finds shortly after arriving in a small community outside of St. Louis, that he truly has his work cut out for him: The matriarch of the house in which he's staying, Mary (Katherine Brecka) has been forced into a wheelchair by a stroke, her husband and sister (Roy Bacon and Susan Willerman) are easily distrustful, and the beautiful young Rhoda (Darra Herman) has been scarred emotionally in her past, those wounds also yet to heal.

As the play continues, it becomes obvious that Michaelis himself has wounds of his own he must cure, and it is this more than anything else that is the true backbone of the play. Director Keith Oncale brings this out quietly and with care; in a play where there are few sky-searing theatrical fireworks, the act of Mary rising from a wheelchair or a young woman in desperate need presenting her baby to Michaelis carry an undeniable punch.

This is all brought to the fore by a very effective company of actors. Barrow covers all the bases as the spiritually troubled title character, while Herman gives an effectively controlled and mannered performance, though one that might not warm up quite as much as the script itself suggests. Tod Mason as the oily doctor with designs on Rhoda and Jenni Tooley as the young mother in need of healing for her baby stand out in the smaller roles all populated with actors bringing charm and humanity to roles that require them in spades.

The evening's most vital and important performance comes from Brecka, who manages to speak volumes with every line, and who seems to span the stage with every movement. Her elation at being able to walk is palpable, while her defeat along the way is heartrending. Part of the magic of The Faith Healer is that you believe in her so fully that it seems Mary's journey - though tied inextricably to Michaelis's - is yours as well.

Her performance alone is worth a trip to The Faith Healer, but the play's simple charms and refreshingly unassuming nature provide plenty of reasons to stay.

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Metropolitan Playhouse
The Faith Healer
Through April 21
Metropolitan Playhouse, 220A East 4th Street between Avenues A and B
Schedule and Tickets: (212) 995-5302