If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

“Molly Sweeney” Opens Long Wharf Season

It’s an understated but welcome opening for the Long Wharf Theatre’s 47th season. The Irish Repertory Theatre’s celebrated production of Brian Friel’s haunting play, “Molly Sweeney”, is currently in the New Haven Theatre’s Stage II. This deceptively simple and humane drama would serve as a worthy opener for any theatre season.

Dedicated to bringing works by Irish and Irish-American masters and contemporary playwrights to a broad American audience, Manhattan’s Irish Repertory Theatre produced this popular Friel work last January and the transfer to New Haven proves fortuitous. IRT founders Charlotte Moore and Ciaran O’Reilly are also intimately involved with the production as, respectively, director and actor.

Friel, the author of “Faith Healer”, “Philadelphia, Here I Come!”, “Dancing at Lughnasa” and many other works, wrote “Molly Sweeney” in 1996 inspired by Oliver Sacks’ case history “To See and Not See”. The play is told in alternating monologues by three characters: Molly Sweeney, a 40-year-old Irish woman who has been blind almost since birth, Frank, her overly-enthusiastic husband who is determined that she shall see again and Mr. Rice, an alcoholic, once-promising eye surgeon who takes on her case.

Although all three characters are relating the same basic story, in Friel’s wonderful writing it is clear how perception of ideas and viewpoint take varying shapes depending on who is doing the speaking. Although with all good intentions, the cavalier suggestion by Frank that Molly has “nothing to lose” by having the surgery, comes back to haunt them all. The value of sight and what it means to each individual is explored with keen intelligence, wit and profound imagination.

The pitch-perfect casting of the three actors, under the knowing direction of Charlotte Moore, is key to the play’s success. There is very little action to speak of, but tension and suspense are still in evidence making “Molly Sweeney” a surprisingly engrossing, thought-provoking work. Simone Kirby (Molly), Ciaran O’Reilly (Frank) and especially Jonathan Hogan as Mr. Rice give exemplary, lived-in performances that seem as natural as breathing.

James Morgan’s spare settings provide individual and specific living spaces for each character. The subtle lighting by Richard Pilbrow and Michael Gottlieb, incidental sound by Zachary Williamson and simple costumes by Linda Fisher all add to the lovely, lyrical quality of this very special theatre experience.

“Molly Sweeney” continues at the Long Wharf Theatre through October 16. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.787.4282 or visit: www.longwharf.org.

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company.  He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org


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