Directed by J. R. Sullivan
At The Den Theatre, Chicago
“Faith healer–faith healing. A craft without an apprenticeship, a ministry without responsibility, a vocation without a ministry. . .occasionally it worked. . .And when it did, when I stood before a man and placed my hands on him and watched him become whole in my presence, those were nights of exultation, of consummation. . .because the questions that undermined my life then became meaningless and because I know that for those few hours I had become whole in myself, and perfect in myself. . .” — Frank Hardy, Faith Healer
Powerful memory play is a remount of of the successful 1995 production
I told everyone I knew (before I became a reviewer) about the fabulous 1995 TurnAround Theatre production of Faith Healer that moved to Steppenwolf’s upstairs theatre in another successful run. The play garnered raves and awards as it mesmerized Chicago audiences with the power of Irish storytelling. With one of the finest cast of “A” list Chicago actors, Brian Friel’s masterwork is in fine hands. Every actor should see this production to learn much about their craft from three dedicated actors. Faith Healer is one of the great Irish plays penned by the master living Irish scribe.
Faith Healer is a memory play told in a series of four monologues by three people each of whom tell essentially the same story from their point of view. First, Frank Hardy, the itinerant faith healer, played with haunting charm by Si Osborne, tells his story revealing his arrogance, angst and bewilderment. He is a moody, hard drinking troubled ‘performer’ who is part charlatan, part entertainer and sometimes actually a healer. Told in vivid, often lyrical language, we take to the charismatic Faith Healer as we start to wonder if he’ll cure us of our ailments? Osborne quickly captures us with his rivetingly profound performance. His monologue titillates as it creates enough mystery to compel us to wonder what actually happened.
Next, we meet Grace (Lisa D. Mortensen) who is either Hardy’s wife or mistress (depending whom you believe) as she tells her story of the events that happened first in Wales then in Northern Scotland and ultimately in Ireland. In a stirring performance, Mortensen conveys both her love and her fixation with the moody and often cruel relationship she had with the Healer. By now, we are hooked with the mystery of the power of the Healer. Did he really ‘heal’ 10 people in one town in rural Wales? And what really happened in the misty Scottish town to Grace’s still-born?
Teddy, the devoted vaudevillian manager, played with terrifying humor in an authentic Cockney accent by Brad Armacost (in a repeat of his Jeff Award performance), carries the story to another level as he describes both the Faith Healer and Grace’s relationship and the strange events in Wales, Scotland, and finally in the rejuvenating return to Ireland. Armacost captures our empathy by vividly telling us about his bagpipe playing dog act that he managed. Friel’s wit and quirky characterization is fully realized in Armacost’s performance.
Faith Healer is one of the mostly powerful, almost mesmerizing, theatrical works you’ll ever see. Director J. R. Sullivan production is flawless— featuring expertly real accents, riveting storytelling through skilled solo work that lands Friel’s marvelous language perfectly. This is amazing theatre that will quickly engage you and keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. All you have to do is listen closely at the start and soon you’ll be hooked.
The mystery unfolds with a rich blend of humor, pathos and bewilderment. Do not think that because there is no interaction between the actors, this play is boring. Quite the contrary. Faith Healer does what all great theatre does-stimulate your imagination. I have seen several fine productions of Faith Healer, but Si Osborne, Lisa D. Mortensen and Brad Armacost set the standard for this densely difficult work. Don’t let this play, as Teddy would call it: “Fan-tast-ic” escape without experience it. The power of live theatre to weave a complex story is skillfully presented. Don’t miss this show!
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: December 27, 2012
For more info checkout the Faith Healer page at theatreinchicago.com
At The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., chicago, IL, www.brownpapertickets.com, tickets $28, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 35 minutes with intermission, through February 3, 2013