KPBS AIRDATE: August 16, 2002
Step right up and meet ‘The Amazing Francis Hardy,’ “Faith Healer” extraordinaire. But be forewarned: his act may be more destructive than restorative. In Irish playwright Brian Friel’s 1979 drama, “Faith Healer,” it’s never quite clear if Frank is a savior or a charlatan, but his story seems to symbolize the artist’s fragile dependence on the accident of talent. Any gift, spiritual or artistic, is often both a blessing and a curse. Just ask Hardy’s wife and his manager, who have endured decades of Frank’s swinish behavior. We hear from each of the three in turn, in four monologues that comprise the dour, talky play.
It’s a multiple monodrama that gives us different sides of the same series of adventures, the events that led up to Frank’s harrowing return to Ireland, after slogging through years of one-night stands in Wales and Scotland. In slow, tortuous recountings, we hear from Frank, his wife Grace and his feisty manager, Teddy. The despairing tales, with their shifting perspectives and competing realities, have to do with the life of the artist and the search for the truth.
Frank’s monologues bookend the play. When we meet him, he’s a dissipated drunk, tormented by an artist’s self-doubt and wrenching inner pain. He’s wracked by uncertainty, but he tells us that he has, on occasion, worked miracles. Yet Michael Rudko lacks the charisma to convince us of either the artistry or the irresistible edge that has kept his companions slavishly loyal. As Grace, Lizbeth Mackay is a believably bitter, broken woman, but she’s not quite credible as a patrician who left her cushy life and law degree to follow Frank. She makes us ache for the anguish she’s been made to suffer, but it’s not apparent why she stayed on, except that her love for Frank is deep, desperate, and self-destructive. She shoulders the burden of living with, but not being, an artist, until it weighs her down. As an antidote to the relentless gloom, the second act opens with pathetically funny Teddy, the seedy showbiz agent who’s stayed with the fractious couple all these years out of a devotion even he can’t fully understand. He’s an amusing and likable huckster, but his tale ends darkly, too. Nonetheless, he’s the one bright spot in the evening, and Tim Donoghue gives a compelling performance
Though bleak, despairing and often plodding, the play is evocatively written, powerfully brutal and occasionally amusing. The stark Globe production, designed by Robin Sanford Roberts, directed by Seret Scott, and dimly lit by David Lee Cuthbert, is a searing analysis of the soul of an artist. It requires faith in the theatrical process, but I wouldn’t call it a healing experience.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.