“Faith Healer” is a play governed by the idiosyncratic memories of its three characters: Frank, his wife Grace and his business manager Teddy. In the four long monologues that form the play, these characters elaborate on, and sometimes contradict, each other’s versions of the truth.
Frank (Robert Allen ’09), the faith healer, a man who silences his incessant internal questioning and doubt with excessive amounts of whiskey, stumbles upon his “craft without an apprenticeship,” as he calls it, by accident. His inner turbulence, and life, revolves around two central concerns: “Am I endowed with a unique and awesome gift?” and “Am I a conman?”
A devoted and loyal wife, Grace (Alexandra Trow ’09) has been in a relationship with Frank for years, heroically withstanding his bitterness, neglect and, Frank tells us, his “blatant unfaithfulness.” As Grace’s monologue — part two of the play — demonstrates, having lived with Frank has made her deeply and hopelessly dependant on him, a condition that, once that tie is gone, drives her into a constant state of mental distress, tormented by the recollections of parting from her family, miscarrying in a remote part of northern Scotland and witnessing Frank’s encounter with a paralyzed man in a wheelchair near Ballybeg, a fictional village in northern Ireland.
It is at the recollection of this last village, Ballybeg, where the tone of all four monologues considerably shifts. But even here, as in other memories, each character has a different account of what actually happened.
Teddy (Thomas Crawford ’09) is the charismatic and energetic business manager who also acts as Frank’s master of ceremonies at faith healing performances. His business philosophy, as he puts it, is: “Friends is friends and work is work. And as the poet says, ‘never the twain shall meet.’” But as his monologue in part three demonstrates, he has spent too much time and has shared too many experiences with the couple for such a professional, detached relationship not to evolve into something more intimate.
This play, written by Irish playwright Brian Friel, is the senior project in theater studies for Allen, Crawford and Trow. Each, to varying degrees, stays faithful to his or her character’s accent, Allen to Frank’s County Limerick accent, Crawford to Teddy’s Cockney accent and Trow — the most faithful of the three — to Grace’s distinguished Queen’s English accent. All three deliver their rather long — Crawford’s, the longest, is 40 minutes — monologues with commendable accuracy and vigor. Crawford’s acting, however, sometimes suffers both from the challenging length of his monologue and from Teddy’s abrupt changes in mood. Trow, on the other hand, manages to maintain Grace’s vulnerable emotional condition, which threatens at any moment to plunge her into total despair.
From parts one to four, with some additions and subtractions in between, the stage consists of five large wooden panels functioning as walls in the background and a simple, faded banner announcing the “One Night Only” performance of one “Francis Hardy” (Frank). The stage’s overall minimalism makes the characters, and thus their stories, the audience’s main focus. Two other significant stage props remain constant: the promotional banner and — in the first, second and fourth parts — the chair on which Frank puts his dark overcoat. These two items, but especially the banner, add a physical connection to what would otherwise only be a thematic interconnectedness among the monologues.
To enhance the “actor-audience” relationship, which is similar to the need-based relationships presented on stage, each audience is being kept to 75 attendees, Allen said after Tuesday’s performance.
True, the characters never meet on stage, but the ones physically absent in a given monologue are nonetheless remembered, which constitutes a form of presence. This play’s meticulous performances succeed in doing just that, making the absent present.
“Faith Healer” will end its run tomorrow with two performances, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., at the Whitney Humanities Center theater.