CONNECTICUT & BEYOND
It is virtually impossible for a theatergoer not to stare at Molly Sweeney (Simone Kirby). Kirby's face intrigues as she plays a woman who is comfortable with her lack of sight; she has been blind since she was a baby. Now, her husband Frank (Ciaran O'Reilly), who combines drive with eclecticism, thinks he has found an opthamologist who will perform surgery and grant Molly sight. Frank's quest is nearly maniacal. Mr. Rice (Jonathan Hogan) has experienced better days. He currently practices in a less than state-of-the-art hospital but he was once highly respected. His wife left him and Mr. Rice is isolated, drinking too often, and stuck in Ballybeg, a small town in Ireland the playwright provides. The obsessive Frank (who is unemployed but one to take on causes) hopes that Mr. (not Dr.) Rice will try an experimental procedure on Molly.
Molly is never really given an option: she will have the operation. Prior to it, she has understood and navigated well within her world. She is smart, reasonable, and feels that she just might have greater perception than many who are sighted. Metaphorically, she sees. Yet, her compulsive husband insists that Mr. Rice proceed in order to restore her sight. Frank pursues causes, takes on hobbies and his foremost project is Molly.
Molly Sweeney is delivered in alternating monologues. Not surprisingly, each character speaks with introductory words at the outset. James Morgan, designing, provides individual spaces, wooden chairs, and windows behind each actor. This is spare yet suitable.
Simone Kirby's Molly, with golden ringlets of hair and her face cocked at a precise upward angle, is compelling and sympathetic. Hogan, the veteran actor playing Mr. Rice, is instantly casual, colloquial and it feels as if he is ready to step into the audience at Long Wharf's cozy Stage II and explain himself to anyone willing to listen. O'Reilly's performance as rapid-speaking Frank Sweeney is impressive; the character, however, is a huge irritant. One wishes he never married Molly a couple of years before and might do everyone a favor if he simply went away. Of course, he cannot and this feeds the plot Brian Friel furnishes.
Just two hours in length, including intermission, the play is sincere and successful. Before long, everyone watching appreciates Molly's dilemma and the inevitable looming tension is disquieting. Thematically, it is all about quality of life, loss, hopes and, perhaps, disappointment.
The single speech device is smooth and it seems as if the actors are relating with one another even if this literally never occurs. When Mr. Rice asks what it is Molly could lose, he is not really speaking to her, but to all of us. Ultimately, the show bids anyone present to ponder implications after the stage goes dark. Molly Sweeney is a deeply moving and affecting play. Brian Friel is an adroit playwright who pays careful attention both to detail and emotion.
The Irish Repertory Theatre production of Molly Sweeney continues on Stage II of New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre through October 16th. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.
- Fred Sokol