Previewed by Gail M. Burns, March 2004
“What is a fact in the context of autobiography? A fact is something that happened to me or something I experienced. It can also be something I thought happened to me, something I thought I experienced. Or, indeed, an autobiographical fact can be pure fiction and no less true or reliable for that…You delve into a particular corner of yourself that’s dark and uneasy, and you articulate the confusions and the unease of that particular period, when you do that, that’s finished and you acquire other corners of unease and discomfort.”
– Brian Friel
After playing seven sold-out performances at Bellissimo Dolce restaurant in Pittsfield, Bruce T. MacDonald and company are moving their production of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer north for a three week run at Main Street Stage in North Adams.
Set-up as four monologues, this biographical play looks at a series of events that took place in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s in Wales, Scotland, and London.to Irish faith healer Francis “Frank” Hardy (MacDonald). These events are recalled from Frank’s point of view as well as that of his English female companion (there is considerable disagreement just what form their relationship takes) Grace (Diedre Bollinger), and his Cockney road manager Teddy (Glenn Barrett).
Each actor is on stage individually. In the first act Frank and then Grace take the stage. After intermission we hear from Teddy and then Frank has a “coda.” All relate the same events, but with very different takes on them.
“The play is really created in the audience’s mind as they listen to these stories,” MacDonald explained, “Our set is three chairs, a table, a banner and a couple of hand props. The most important thing happening on stage is the lives of these people, so there are no visual distractions from that.”
At Bellissimo Dolce the show was performed at very close proximity to the audience in a theatre-in-the-round style. The cast is working to find ways to break the fourth wall in the more traditionally laid-out confines of Main Street Stage, such as leaving the house lights on during the performance. “At the restaurant we were so close that we could literally see people on the edge of their seats. It was great to have the chance to perform this show before coming here. The piece has really grown over the past three months,” MacDonald said.
MacDonald discovered the play about twelve years ago when he was performing for some Irish Elderhostel groups, “And it literally haunted me,” he explained, “I just had to delve into Frank Hardy and find out who he was. I worked on Frank for about a year with Patrick Bonavitacola at his Lenox-based actors’ workshop. At first I wanted to understand Frank and then I realized I wanted to be Frank.”
MacDonald brought Barrett and Bollinger to Bonavitacola’s workshop as well, to work on their interpretations of Teddy and Grace.
“The workshop process was difficult for me” Barrett said, “I don’t like to start my creative process in front of a bunch of actors! But I slowly began to get into it and it has really helped me to open up to the part and to other actors.”
MacDonald and Barrett have done more than 90 productions together over the years. “We have nothing to hide from each other,” Barrett laughed, “We’ve seen each other as bad and as good as we can possibly be. Bruce has really encouraged me. I would be waiting tables if it weren’t for him.”
Bollinger has also worked with Barrett and MacDonald before, notably at Main Street Stage in the 2000 production of The Value of Names by Jeffrey Sweet. “This role is something I wanted very much to try. I have never done anything remotely like this and it’s been wonderful,” she explained. “Its been an incredible learning experience and a challenge. Even after working on this for so long there is still a lot to learn.”
“This is a cunning play the way it is assembled,” Bollinger added, “It is an absolutely beautiful and touching play – just exquisitely crafted. The language is lovely. I’ve never done Shakespeare, but this reminds me of him. This play is a very rich playground for both actors and audience.”
Faith Healer was originally produced in New York City in 1979, directed by Jose Quintero and starring James Mason as Francis, Donal Donnelly as Teddy, and Clarissa Kaye as Grace. Born January 9, 1929, in Omagh, County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, Brian Friel is one of Ireland’s most prominent living playwrights. In addition to his published plays, which include Philadelphia, Here I Come!, Molly Sweeney, and Dancing at Lughnasa, he has written short stories; screenplays; film, TV and Radio adaptations of his plays; and several pieces of non-fiction on the role of theatre and the artist.
Faith Healer opens April 2 and runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through April 16. I will be seeing the show on April 2 and posting my review on this Web site the following day. The play has mature content and is not suitable for small children. For reservations or more information call Main Street Stage at 413-663-3240 or visit their Web site. The theatre is located at 57 Main Street in North Adams, a few doors east of Papyri Books.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2004