Faith Healer

By Brian FrielFaith Healer by Friel

Directed by Belinda Bremner

Produced by Oak Park Festival Theatre

At the Performance Center Oak Park

“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

Faith Healer is a masterpiece of Irish storytelling

Brian Friel’s 1979, Faith Healer, is a mesmerizing mystery told in four monologues, each rich in imagery and anecdotal information. We hear basically the same story told by three people – contradictory truths told by Frank Hardy – the Faith Healer (Kevin Theis), Grace, his wife or mistress (Mary Michell) -and Teddy (Jack Hickey) his manager. This memory play entices the audience to listen react and believe each character. We must decide where the truth lies.

Faith Healer by Friel

First Frank Hardy, the itinerant faith healer, played with hyper reactions and guile by Kevin Theis, 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. Theis easily charms us with his honest, yet jumpy performance. His monologue titillates as it creates enough mystery to compel us to wonder what happens next.

Faith Healer by Friel

Next, we hear from Grace (Mary Michell) 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 then in Ireland. In a wrenching performance, Michell conveys both her love/hate 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 Faith Healer. Did he really ‘heal’ 10 people in one town? And what happened in the misty Scottish town to Grace’s still-born? What did Frank do that day?

Faith Healer by Friel

Teddy, the devoted vaudevillian manager, played with terrific intense humor and rich Cockney accent by Jack Hickey, 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 homecoming to Ireland. Hickey’s droll humor and impeccable comic timing mixed with his melancholy memories of Frank and the event in Ireland was poignantly effective.

If you listen closely at the start,  you’ll quickly be hooked. The vivid language  and the colorful anecdotes will keep you engaged. The mystery unfolds with a rich blend of drollery, pathos and bewilderment. In the hands of expert actors with  strong command of their material, the action of the stories will catapult your interest. Faith Healer will have you on the edge of your chair in wonderment.  I can’t think of a finer work of pure storytelling than Brian Friel’s Faith Healer. Wonderful material in deft hands makes for a fine evening of theatre.  This show is a gem!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: March 18, 2011

For full show information, go to the Faith Healer page at Theatre in Chicago.

At The Performance Center, 1010 Madison, Oak Park, IL,  call 708-445-4440, www.oakparkfestival.com, tickets $25, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 5 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through April 16, 2011