Molly Sweeney, written by the late, great Brian Friel, is comprised of beautifully written monologues that slowly meander around one another, dropping hints of what’s to come yet letting us wait, uncertain, for the final revelation. It’s a powerful, moody piece – nothing better for a blustery spring day than the darkness at the heart of an Irish drama.
Middle-aged Molly Sweeney (Laura Graver) has been functionally blind since she was ten months old; only able to see a bit of light and shadow. She’s adapted remarkably, however, and loves her life. Her husband Frank (Evan Jones), a man who’s never found a failing cause he hasn’t immediately adopted, thinks Mr. Rice (Ed McMullen, also the show’s director), a once-famous eye surgeon now living quietly in the area, can restore Molly’s vision. Mr. Rice sees the surgery as a way to regain his status. Molly, trapped between the men, isn’t given much a choice – and of course she should want her sight back, shouldn’t she – but no one takes into consideration how stepping into the light might affect them all.
It’s never easy for an actor to direct himself, yet McMullen does double duty here admirably; the show is gripping, the monologues directed masterfully (monologues are tricky and can come off like bad audition pieces or lectures – nothing of the sort here, to my delight) and not a moment is wasted. McMullen does strong work as Mr. Rice; his descent into drunkenness, another thing that’s not easy to master, is utterly believable and heartbreaking, and his character’s feelings for Molly – only able to be spoken of, not portrayed, since the characters don’t interact – are palpable.
Jones plays Frank, a man who’s not quite in touch with what he wants, who hasn’t quite grown up, well; his emotion truly comes through, especially in the scene where he realizes that, for once, one of his schemes is actually going to come to fruition. (But, you know what they say … be careful what you wish for.) All three actors are very in touch with their emotions in this piece – tears at the ready, a catch in the voice, tremor in the hand: really excellent work here.
Ah, and Graver: the titular character, and the star of this show – and star she is. She plays blindness as if it’s her native state: not the slightest slip, nothing to tip the audience off otherwise. This is not an easy character to play, filled with emotion and frustration and strength and bravery, and Graver is more than up to the challenge. Without a strong Molly, the show would collapse. With this Molly, supported by these men, this show blooms.
What is it to truly see? The show discusses types of vision, of sight, but you’ll come away with your conclusions of which of these characters is the most blind. A fine script, a fine group of actors and a fine production – very much worth your time and a trip to the theater.
“Molly Sweeney,” D & M Productions, The Arts Center of the Capital Region, 265 River Street, Troy; through April 21; $20; Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; 518-522-7273