Faith Healer reveals human nature

Kathleen Ambre

There is a rendering action in Brian Friel’s Faith Healer–powerful yet discrete monologues, complicated yet fascinating characters–this play pays tribute to a truly talented Irish writer and showcases a just-as-talented cast of three.

In the broad scheme of things, Faith Healer is composed of an intricate web of relationships. At the play’s center–performing an opening and concluding monologue–is Francis Hardy (Joe Dowling), an itinerant faith healer practicing his precarious trade for many years alongside his manager, Teddy (Raye Birk), and his lover, Grace (Sally Wingert). Each character articulates his or her own account of foregoing events.

At first the plotline seems disoriented and erratic due to sudden flashbacks and hazy references, but as the audience grows increasingly aware of the discrepancies in the recountings–from the seemingly mundane to the clearly momentous–everything begins to fall into place. Piece, by piece, the jigsaw of events align as the audience is left to procure their own interpretation.

The language emits a smooth rhythm with a fine balance of formal and informal, profound insights and comic relief. Every line emanates a rather poetic cadence, dropping in and out of the past and present, to the point where the words seem unconscious, effortless–a noteworthy accomplishment for any playwright.

Commendable Irish writer, Brain Friel–now approaching his eightieth birthday–undoubtedly deserves all the acclaim. He remains a tier above his fellow native playwrights, known today as one of the most important theatrical figures of the last century. J.M. Synge’s genius was cut short by an unexpected death and Sean O’Casey’s powerful political masterpieces were disparaged by his long exile from Ireland, but Friel continues to astound and allure despite his old age.

Underlying affairs thread in and out of three divergent narratives–The miraculous healing of 10 people, the troubling death of an infant, the astounding suicide of a loved one–but there is no single, authoritative version of the past to be found. Instead, the play focuses on the characters’ incessant, confounding quest for reassurance–something that might render a sense of entirety–which turns out to be obtainable only outside of life.