Molly Sweeney is blind. And she's married to a windbag, a dorky bore who's convinced her to undergo surgery to restore her eyesight. She's lived a full, happy life in her native Ireland -- at least until her meddlesome husband takes her on as his latest cause. The operation restores her eyesight but ruins her life, plunging her into a world she doesn't understand, one full of expectations and responsibilities that prove too much for her.
Both Molly's husband, Frank, and the surgeon, Mr. Rice, see Molly's case as an opportunity to redeem their sorry lives. The trio stands before us for two very long hours, telling a story that amounts to a very minor work by a very major playwright.
Brian Friel's other, more notable plays include Dancing at Lughnasa and Translations, and he's considered by many to be among the greatest living playwrights working today. But Molly Sweeney is less a play than a series of monologues that display Friel's flair for casual language. The story is presented entirely in narrative form; the three characters never interact, and speak only to the audience. Molly's blindness is a simple metaphor, but there's little done to make it more universal or relevant in any way. And because her story -- "I was blind, then I wasn't, and I don't like what I'm seeing" -- is told rather than enacted, the cast is left to act from the waist up.
Herberger Theatre Center's Performance Outreach Theater, 222 East Monroe Street
Continues through March 27. Call 602-347-1071.
They mostly rise to the task. In the title role, Molly Lajoie is as tight as a wire, although her character's deep reserve and nobility keep her from making a lasting impression. Radford Mallon provides sturdy support as her annoying husband, but Roy Major's stuttered meandering as drunken Mr. Rice, probably meant to illustrate his deep insecurity and sense of failure, is mostly just bothersome.
Would that director Christopher Haines had asked his cast to drop their "Irish" accents altogether (what does a brogue add to this story other than geography?) or found some way to bust out of Friel's narrative to make this overlong story hour into something more vibrant. Then again, aside from adding a reel or a jig or mindless bits of business, there's not much Haines could have brought to this turgid melodrama.
The austere set design is simple yet effective: three chairs covered with white sheets, as if to suggest a home that's been shut up for the season. What unfolds there might have made a nice one-act, but it isn't entirely a play.
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