Frank or Francis Hardy (Lane) is an intense, hard-drinking man who travels from one village in the British Isles to the next as he attempts to heal those seriously ill. He is spirited and high-strung, yet filled with doubt. Uncertain of himself and his effectiveness, he is, nonetheless, driven. Lane (gripping throughout) takes the stage and begins to recite, from memory, places and towns where he has been. Frank, in conflict, sees through to human suffering. A memory play, it is also hypnotic, poetic and musical. The actors deliver their lines within a deliberately drab settingalmost nothing.
Colin Lane is on stage for forty minutes before the lighting dims and he is replaced by Keira Naughton as Grace, Fank's wife. Then there is a question as to whether Grace is really his wife. She sits by a small table, speaks and drinks. With the most disciplined of performances, her moods varying to extremes, Naughton is absolutely absorbing. Grace, too, is working through anguish and pain. Hers is a different perspective upon her life with Frank. She thinks backward to the time she left Frank. And, with poignancy, she details the loss and burial of a stillborn baby.
Actor David Atkins as Teddy, Frank's manager, appears on stage after intermission. With his silver hair plastered down and wearing velvet if jaded attire (courtesy costumer Charles Schoonmaker), he is initially jaunty. This is a relief! He sings along to a scratchy recording of "The Way You Look Tonight," a tune which opens the performance and, given different musical renditions, is repeated again and again. Teddy punctuates his monologue by drinking successive bottles of beer or ale. Teddy, thank goodness, represents levity.
Frank returns for the final portion of the two and three-quarter-hour production. He realizes that he has saved some but not all he has seen. He has sought connection to people and it haunts him that he has not always been successful. Frank is alone and in exile. He is terrified to conclude that his effectiveness is less than certain.
Faith Healer is a play of words and phrases, implied emotion and also silence. It is most demanding of its audience. Friel is eloquent with monologues reaching into the depths of despair. While some lighter moments (especially while Atkins is on stage) are welcome, it is, for the most part, an inner directed piece. Director Hill, an unseen presence, must be pivotal since the actors never see one another. In a sense, then, Hill (a fine actor himself) has become a vital component.
Each of the characters has a different truth to express. The actors, separate entities who are very much intertwined, must be cognizant of: the audience, one another and, in Frank's case, people for whom his gift has worked and those who remained afflicted.
The actors find, hold, and demonstrate inner conflict throughout this tough, difficult, lengthy performance. They actualize Friel's words as they stretch themselves in search of authenticity. This is trying theater and it must be exhausting for these individuals to inhabit the characters. The results, however, are exceptional and sustaining.
Faith Healer continues at the Unicorn Theater (Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts) through July 4th. For ticket information, call (413) 298-5576 or visit berkshiretheatre.org.
- Fred Sokol