In the Banyan’s current production, the truth depends on who’s telling the story.
By Kay Kipling
The challenges of staging Brian Friel’s The Faith Healer are obvious ones: The three-character play, which centers on an itinerant Irish faith healer, his long-suffering wife and his Cockney manager, is set up as four lengthy monologues—that’s a lot of talking, especially when the actors aren’t doing it to each other.
In the case of the Banyan Theater Company’s current production of the play, you can add another challenge; just two days before opening night, the actor playing Teddy, the manager, had to be hospitalized, and veteran actor Bradford Wallace stepped in, script in hand, to play the pivotal third member of this haunting triangle.
So it’s a relief to report that, for the most part, challenges here were met and conquered. The Faith Healer will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some audience members may get restless, and the differing perspectives of the three characters telling the story of their travels and hardships may even leave some confused, because the truth here is a slippery commodity.
But for me, Friel’s gift for language and storytelling sets the right magic spell, aided by the passion of the actors for their roles. We start out with Frank (Eric Hissom), the faith healer himself, reciting the names of all the tiny Welsh towns he, Grace and Teddy have visited, picking up a little bit of money here and there from those who come to seek his help. Frank is not a mountebank; he has actually been able to cure some people. But his gift—or perhaps it’s a curse, since it leaves him tortured by doubts and questions—is erratic, and it can desert him at crucial moments.
Despite that and his often unkind treatment of her, Grace (Lisa Morgan, in an especially moving performance) has stuck by him through thick and thin, including the loss of a stillborn child in a remote Scottish town years before, a pain she’s never recovered from. And the show-bizzy Teddy also bears a loyalty to Frank that seems to puzzle even him; after all, as he expresses it, his 20 years on the road starving and struggling with Frank and Grace were just a “professional relationship.”
Lisa Morgan in the Banyan's The Faith Healer.
Although the actors are never together on the stage, their relationships are brought to full life through the performances, under Chris Dolman's sympathetic direction. Richard Cannon’s spare set works to suggest a desolate church, a London bed-sit, an Irish pub and other locales; and his lighting and Steve Lemke’s sound design blend to create the right somber mood. In the end, The Faith Healer presents a touchingly dark story, with welcome glimpses of humor, that should stay with you for some time.
The Faith Healer is onstage at the Cook Theatre in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts through Aug. 26. For tickets call 552-1032 or go to banyantheatercompany.com.