Molly Sweeney

Rosalind Friedman

“Learning to see is not like learning a new language. It’s like learning language for the first time.” Denis Diderot - 1749

Be careful what you wish for.

NY’s Irish Rep, which we’ve spoken about frequently, has brought its beautiful production of Brian Friel’s Molly Sweeny to Long Wharf Stage II. The playwright uses three characters expressing themselves through monologues to tell a fascinating story inspired by a case history written by the brilliant scientist, Oliver Sacks, entitled “To See and Not See.” Directed by the Irish Rep’s Artistic Director, Charlotte Moore, the characters are brilliantly defined, the language flows like poetry, and we, the audience, are drawn into the mythical Ballybeg that literally means, small town, and become part of the play.

There we meet 41 year old Molly Sweeny; played by a radiant Simone Kirby, although blind since the age of 10 months, she is a happy well-adjusted young woman, who is a masseuse in a health club and has many friends. Her father, a judge, instructed her, particularly with the names and descriptions of flowers, which she learned to feel and touch and smell with great accuracy. Her mother was sent to a mental institution. Her recent marriage to Frank, the ebullient Ciaran O’Reilly, has added joy to her life and his. This out of work husband is an inveterate explorer of all quirky projects in life and succeeds in none: i.e. raising goats to make cheese, harvesting bees for honey; and studying the life of whales.

Frank’s obsession with the restoration of Molly’s eyesight is his biggest venture. Mr. Rice, a famed but alcoholic down-on-his-luck, Ophthalmologist, depicted by Jonathan Hogan with important straight-forward and ironic veracity, has moved to Ballybeg. After many examinations, he agrees to operate on Molly. He hopes that this success will restore his reputation. The results are disastrous. Despite the help of psychologists of different kinds, Molly cannot stand seeing. She suffers from the brightness, the turmoil, the loudness of it all. Frank pushes her to the limit of her patience, and sadly she develops blind-sight, a psychological condition that can occur after sight has been restored in a previously blind patient. (While the patient can see and respond to visual stimuli, a malfunction in the cerebral cortex prevents visual perceptions form reaching the consciousness.)

The performances are transformative; the only problem we encountered was that Simone Kirby as Molly sometimes speaks too quickly so that we do not understand what she is saying.

Molly Sweeny at Long Wharf Stage II through October 16.

This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS RADIO


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