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Faith Healer: Who Can I Turn To?

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"Acting is reacting" goes the old saying drummed into the head of every young thespian taking Acting 101.  In short, it means to be continually aware of those around you and to feed your performance from the stimulus they provide.  But the three mesmerizing performers in the Broadway revival of Brian Friel's Faith Healer, a drama made up of four lengthy monologues that tell different points of view of the same events, must perfect the tricky business of not only playing their own roles, but inventing the scene partner with whom they share the stage.


This isn't a "speak to the audience" collection of monologues, although Ralph Fiennes, Cherry Jones and Ian McDiarmid do aim their pieces toward us.  But under Jonathan Kent's tense and detailed direction, part of the magic of the piece is how each actor turns their solo into an intimate conversation that could make you feel the two of you are the only ones in the room, leaving patrons to wonder what "role" they've been assigned.  With performances seeming so natural and unadorned, don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to put a comforting arm around Ms. Jones, crack open a brew with Mr. McDiarmid or take to the road with Mr. Fiennes.


Opening (and closing) with the title character, we meet Frank Hardy (Fiennes), a/k/a The Fantastic Francis Hardy, a sly and selectively charismatic Irishman traveling small towns in Wales and Scotland during the 1930's and 40's, demonstrating his advertised powers to heal the sick and crippled.  Playing makeshift meeting halls in impoverished towns and villages, Hardy does manage to "heal" enough of his patrons to establish some amount of credibility, either through the desperate faith of those who come to him or pure luck.  The plot is actually a series of remembrances, best not detailed here, involving life on the road with his eventual wife and mother of his child, Grace (Jones) and his theatrically-blooded manager and publicist, Teddy (McDiarmid).


When we meet Grace it is sometime after her relationship with Frank has been dissolved.  Barefoot and amply supplied with cigarettes and whiskey, she is an intelligent, educated woman recalling her classically bad choices.  As spellbound as Grace was with her Frank, Jones, seated for her entire stay on stage, is just as captivating as a dexterous juggler of her character's emotions.


In a comical turn, McDiarmid is grandly loquacious, sipping beer after beer throughout his Act II opener.  As a man whose creed it is to never mix personal relationships with business, he can claim to admire his star for being a tremendous natural talent while staying emotionally aloof.  But years on the road with Frank and Grace have added an underlying sorrow to his music hall styled knack for story telling.


With no two characters on stage at once, the conflicts in Faith Healercreep up on you as you gradually compare each one's version of the truth.  Friel's melodic language could not be treated with greater care than with this trio and the work of Jonathan Fensom (set and costume design) and Mark Henderson (lighting design) mix the seediness and dangerous romance of the era of barnstorming.


But most importantly, Faith Healer succeeds in establishing the most intimate of relationships between artists and audience.  Like the most convincing of charlatans, the evening will draw you in and leave you a sucker for every word.


Photos by Joan Marcus

Top:Ralph Fiennes

Bottom: Cherry Jones and Ian McDiarmid


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