In today’s era of instant journalism—anybody can report anything, anytime for all to read, ignore, like, scorn, mock or follow—there have been all manner of “stories” that have gone viral or found their way into mainstream press only to be found lacking in the key component of verifiable facts (google “fake news stories” for countless examples).
Perfect timing then, for Brian Friel’s 1979 pre-social media (and pre-Internet for most) tale of three closely related souls largely describing their intertwined relationships and shared events. Told over the course of four monologues, it is left to the audience to sort out most of the inconsistencies, fibs and lies for themselves. By journey’s end, patrons have just as much work ahead of them as the playwright did when conjuring up this saga of a faith healer, Francis “Frank” Hardy (Jim Mezon), his long-suffering, apparently barren wife/mistress (depends who you ask), Grace (Corrine Koslo) and their unflappable (the steady flow of booze—a constant source of calm for all three—tempering a simmering rage and, likely, unrequited love) manager/friend, Teddy (Peter Krantz).
Musically gluing the one-at-a-time narrative together is Fred Astaire’s ever-charming version of “The Way You Look Tonight.” Its last two lines (With each word your tenderness grows / Tearing my fear apart) speak volumes about what lies beneath the surface of this trio of travelling “miracle workers.”
Director Craig Hall is blessed with a uniformly superb cast: each of them interacting with the other despite never sharing the stage. From Mezon’s first appearance—eyes purposely left in the shadows of his hat—it’s clear that attention to detail will go a long way in keeping the audience awake and attentive during this necessarily wordy production. Mezon is the only character that gets two trips to the stage, artfully setting down the back-story of his “gift”—healing the sick, maimed and generally downtrodden while honestly admitting that “Mostly, nothing happens.” No Music Man he, it’s the power of persuasion (not shiny new instruments) and the truly unexplained cures that feed his ego and his want-to-be-believers’ hopes. Mezon digs especially deep in the ending monologue, using understatement and—until now—pushed away emotion to end the proceedings with a shudder, even as he understands himself and what lies ahead better than ever. As he leaves the stage, a whole new level of understanding to his trademark “The Fantastic Francis Hardy” is realized.
The love-hate, desire-detest complexities of Grace are quietly (no loud drunk she) laid bare by Koslo whose mothering instincts had to span the two men in her life and the 30-minute nurturing of a stillborn son whose dad may or may not have been present for the non-birth.
Krantz’s portrayal of the businessman who knows that he cannot be friends with his clients or co-workers is a marvel of self-deception and unmitigated despair. Curiously, the darkest parts of The Entertainer (cross-reference below) are kindled by Krantz then set ablaze by Mezon.
Christin Poddubiuk’s functional, stark set lets the players speak directly to themselves and those witnessing their recollections; Bonnie Beecher’s lighting design ensures that not a line or expression (except intentionally for the later) are missed.
After seeing Faith Healer, it’s hard to imagine completely believing anything that is reported without being in the thick of the action as it took place. Accordingly, you will have to see it for yourself! JWR