Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Molly Sweeney
Albion Theatre
Review by Richard T. Green

Maggie Wininger
Photo by John Lamb
When your vision of the world, happy or sad, gets too much to bear, you might have to turn away from overpowering sights. But it's a terrible skill, grudgingly acquired over the long decades. And it's a skill that comes too late in life in Brian Friel's all-consuming play Molly Sweeney. The blind woman at the center of it has much of her vision restored by surgery. But it lands her (and us) in a strange new world. The drama debuted at the Gate Theatre in Dublin, Ireland in 1994. And it unfolds in multiple layers in our own minds, thanks to the deep-dive direction of Robert Ashton in the black box theater at the Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis.

Just three modern actors fill the stage with personal visions and brilliant outlooks, but they are (in the Greek "monologuing" sense) entirely blind to one another. Each of the three presents a character who's hypnotized by his or her own internal life, oblivious to the others in the age before cell phones, when the contact list was often just one's self.

By 1994, humanity had grown used to the fact that the conversations in our heads would be filled with unanswered questions. Molly Sweeney occupies that same space in an age of wonder, at the edge of a vanishing civilization. And what must it be like growing up today, grabbing all your answers out of thin air, as if great truths were mere slices of white bread, to be peeled off a loaf?

Maybe in that sense the recovering blind woman's story is actually the same as our own discovery of the world in our pocket, the supercomputer we drop in the toilet and which daily returns the favor to us. In any case, Maggie Wininger renews the magic of theatre as Molly. She is healed but overwhelmed by the world all at once, in a show that will gobble you up.

Right before intermission she describes a great party, full of well-wishers before her first operation. And she sweeps us off our feet in a dance around her own familiar home in the playwright's fictional setting of Ballybeg. But right before the lights come down at the end of act one in this two hour and fifteen minute show, we realize she already possesses a far greater world than most sighted people. Admittedly, Molly Sweeney is probably about 27% horror story, due to human weakness and ravenous hearts, and too many one-sided relationships.

But there are several warm laughs, along with the intoxicating poetry of Mr. Friel's writing and all the bounding Irish showmanship that makes it irresistible. CJ Langdon is a delirious imp (without a trace of stereotype) as Molly's husband Frank. He fills the first half of the show with his great, mad passions. But later he is guilty without a sense of guilt, in his jealousy, when her newfound sight pushes him aside.

Paul Gutting is flawlessly cinematic in his performance of the hard-drinking eye surgeon Mr. Rice. Late in the play he compares Molly's blindness to a kind of darkness that's befallen him, which he hopes to escape. Life has turned away from him, leaving him in shadows, as she recoils from her own new power in light and color. And we are fascinated as they struggle at the edge of a newer understanding.

Obviously, it's Ms. Wininger as Molly who makes us lean forward as if to hold out our hands around her, as if she were a tiny, vulnerable flame. And of course you will tell me she's not Bette Davis or Meryl Streep. But everything works together on her side. And so I frequently had trouble perceiving any difference.

Molly Sweeney runs through March 31, 2024, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand, St. Louis MO. For tickets and information, please visit

Molly: Maggie Wininger
Mr. Rice: Paul Gutting
Frank: CJ Langdon

Production Staff:
Director: Robert Ashton
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Gwynneth Rausch
Set Design/Technical Director: Erik Kuhn
Lighting Design: Eric Wennlund
Graphics & Set Painting: Marjorie Williamson
Costumes: Tracey Newcomb
Sound Design: Robert Ashton
Board Operator: Denise Mandle