Review: MOLLY SWEENEY at The Kranzberg Black Box Theatre

Albion's production of Molly Sweeney is inspired storytelling.

By: Mar. 17, 2024
Review: MOLLY SWEENEY at The Kranzberg Black Box Theatre
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MOLLY SWEENEY, the current offering from Albion Theatre Company, is the story of a middle-aged blind woman who is encouraged by her husband and a physician to undergo a series of sight restoring surgeries. As the play unfolds, gaining sight had dire and unexpected consequences for the woman who only knew blindness her entire life. While vision may have seemed like a gift, it was anything but that, interrupting her peaceful and happy world.  

Friel’s play, is based on the paper “To See and Not See” Written by neurologist Oliver Sacks who is widely regarded as one of the best writers of medical literature. The subject of Sacks’ paper was a man, in his 50’s, who had his sight surgically restored. Sacks’ paper examined what it meant for a blind patient to be given sight and have to process copious amounts of complex visual stimuli.  

Friel, an Irishman, is widely regarded as one of the best English language dramatists and Irish playwrights. He tells the story of MOLLY SWEENEY, using monologues delivered by three characters, Molly, her husband Frank, and the surgeon, Mr. Rice. Each character recounts the situation and tells a version of the story from their perspective and memory. While all three are on stage throughout the play, the actors never interact with one another, but at times each actor takes on the likeness and mimics the voice of the other two to recount their interactions with each other. Friel’s writing is elegant and each of the actors eloquently convey Friel’s words. When MOLLY SWEENEY tells her story about what it is like to see, Friel writes that Molly’s world was ‘foreign, disquieting and alarming.’ 

Ashton, as is consistent with all his directorial efforts, has collaborated with a trio of actors to elicit magnificent performances. Maggie Winiger (Molly), Paul Gutting (Mr. Rice), and CJ Langdon (Frank), deftly handle Friel’s elegant prose with distinction and sophisticated artistry. Each comfortably inhabits their persona to convey their individual account of the story to the audience as though they were speaking to a friend or family member. The actors address the audience instead of one another. The audience connects with each character because of Winiger, Gutting, and Langdon’s genuine and authentic performances.  

Winiger inhabits the blind woman’s body on stage. Her peculiar posture, gestures, facial expressions, and awkward smile are unfiltered expressions of emotion that may not conform to societal norms for gait, movement, and affect. Her head position, gawkish eye movements, and empty stare above the audience’s heads, all illustrate her blindness. She is reticent and aware that her husband and the ophthalmologist want her vision restored more than she does. She conveys how perfectly happy she was in her prior world and allows the audience to see that having sight may not be the gift others thought it would be. Albion’s MOLLY SWEENEY is compelling theatre because of her transcendent performance.  

Gutting paints Mr. Rice as an arrogant surgeon with a God complex. He is motivated to attempt this surgery to advance his standing amongst his peers. Gutting, in an absorbing performance, transforms his character from an egoistic and conceited doctor to an apologetic and remorseful man who realizes his drive ruined a kind and happy woman’s life.  

CJ Langdon’s plays Frank as an overzealous Samaritan, taking on causes to try and help others. Frank is a bit of a geek, smaller in stature than the doctor and Molly, but filled with an abundance of optimistic zeal. He is certain that his efforts will change his new wife’s life when her vision is restored post operatively. Langdon fearlessly portrays Frank, bounding about the stage and hurling Friel’s words with fervor and enthusiasm. He dynamically leans into his character and makes Frank very eccentric, a bit homely, and somewhat chafing in a bravura performance.  

While each of the actors delivered exceptional performances, credit must be given to Ashton for his brilliant casting and direction. His blocking prudently positioned the actors in close proximity to one another when they were conveying stories about, or conversations they had, with the other characters in the story. While they were not engaging directly with one another, it almost seemed as if they were conversing through Friel’s scripted monologues.  

Albion delivers another first-rate production with MOLLY SWEENEY. Ashton, the artistic director, and his staff carefully select quality theatrical assets to increase the probability of sensational storytelling. Albion’s production of MOLLY SWEENEY is just that, outstanding storytelling through exquisite performances that are skillfully directed.  

Click the link below to purchase tickets. MOLLY SWEENEY runs weekend through March 31st at the Kranzberg Black Box Theater adjacent to the Fox Theatre on the corner of Grand Avenue and Olive Street.