Brian Friel's Writing Holds Together Faith Healer at the Odyssey

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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Through the 80s and 90s, the three or four monologue play explored the irony of more than one perspective on a well-rounded image of a personality or an event.  Brian Friel’s Faith Healer is an excellent case in point.  In the play, three characters, the faith healer, Francis Hardy (Paul Norword), anchors his perspective on a particular incident in his life that has catastrophic consequences.  At the same time, his wife, Grace (Diana Cignoni), focuses on her husband’s failings; his infidelity, and the hardships he inflicted upon her.  The singular event he mentions merely ended one life of agony for he and began another.  Pulling it all together, the faith healer’s manager, Teddy (Ron Bottitta), fills in the empty spaces in both their narratives.

In The Faith Healer Brian Friel created a masterful tone-paean to a passing, flavorful way of life. Like Rashomon, he presents a prismatic look at Irish life of  a by-gone era. His masterful observations glitter and build upon one another. Not only is the writing subtle and mesmerizing, it feels as though one character might rush in any moment to protest, or correct, another. But under Ron Sossi’s direction, Faith Healer presents itself as a series of confidences between the audience and each character.

Although the tone is intimate, beckoning audience members to lean in to the personal stories they hear, the stage, dominated by the banner announcing Faith Healer Francis Hardy’s arrival, is curiously static and cavernous. Sossi has chosen to represent a tent revival; with a dais on one side and empty chairs facing the dais at angles to the audience, as if awaiting the spectators that never come. Dim lighting on the majority of the set offsets a spot trained on each successive and singular character.  Such an approach necessitates a larger than life character to fill the space.  However, on opening night, only Bottita, as Teddy, manages that feat.  He is helped by an already prodigious arsenal of accents suited to the play, from lilting Irish to the rougher accents for the thugs who deliver the faith healer’s reckoning. I hope that, through the run, the players can warm to their roles and their places on the empty stage to help up forget that there is no one else there.

Faith Healer performs Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 2:00 pm through NovMay 12th at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. Tickets: $32.00 to $37.00 .  Phone (310) 477-2055 or online at www.odysseytheatre.com

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