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Molly Sweeney at the Irish Repertory Theatre


Molly Sweeny
Directed by Charlotte Moore
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
From Jan. 19, 2011
Mon. thru Sat. at 8pm, 3pm matinees on Wed. Sat. & Sun.
Tickets: $55 & $65 (212) 727-2737 or www.irishrep.org
Closes March 13, 2011
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Jan. 28, 2011

Brian Friel is certainly a great storyteller, and the premise of Molly Sweeney could make for a captivating drama. However, once the dramatist decided to divide his tale into alternating dramatic monologues between the three principal characters, he set down a formidable challenge, which Irish Rep’s director Charlotte Moore never manages to overcome.

The three characters are Molly Sweeny (Geraldine Hughes), a forty-year-old woman who has been blind since the age of ten months; her husband, Frank (Ciaran O’Reilly), a man prone to take on causes without the determination to see them through; and Mr. Rice (Jonathan Hogan), an alcoholic surgeon who once enjoyed worldwide fame. Each speaks with great emotion and poetry. The problem is they never speak to each other.

Under the influence of her husband, Molly agrees to undergo an operation to restore her sight. Mr. Rice is hopeful because Molly can see light and shadows. Molly, who has learned to live quite well sightless, is mostly acquiescing to her husband’s desire to improve the world and its inhabitants.

And here’s the second problem: from the very beginning everyone in the audience should know that the results of this operation are not going to be good. Why else write about it?

So the unraveling of Molly Sweeney entails nothing more than revealing exactly what goes wrong. Will Molly discover that as a sighted woman she no longer wants to stay with her husband? Will she fall in love with her doctor? Will she realize that she can no longer find a place for herself in a world that she actually sees?

Just in case there might be the slightest element of surprise in the play, Friel determines to tell the audience almost immediately that Molly’s mother suffered from insanity. And there you go.

It is possible that Moore could have used a more interesting set to give the audience some sense of time and place. Or perhaps more dramatic lighting or sound effects might have helped. But it is unlikely either would have done much good.

Hughes, O’Reilly and especially Hogan are all excellent. There’s no problem with believability or characterization here. And Friel has given his characters monologues that move like music.

If Friel depends on his formidable gifts in using the English language to make this play compelling, he succeeds far better than would lesser playwrights. But unless you enjoy sitting through talk and talk and then more talk, Molly Sweeney may seem more like a lecture than a play. [Simmons]

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