By: Paulanne Simmons
October 23, 2019: Brian Friel’s 1994 drama, Molly Sweeney, is so thoughtful, inspired and profound one wonders why it is not revived more often. Fortunately, Keen Company has revived it this season, in a production directied by Jonathan Silverstein, with Pamela Sabaugh as the sightless, middle-aged Molly; Tommy Schrider as Frank, her new husband, a man who is convinced her sight can be restored; and Paul O’Brien as Mr. Rice, the alcoholic doctor who is supposed to make it happen.
The Keen production is modest but powerful. A backdrop of the blue sky and green grass of Ireland reminds us of what the earth looks like to the sighted. The three actors deliver their monologues without ever addressing each other. Their performances are remarkably controlled and fine-tuned. Yet they are overflowing with restrained emotion.
In many ways Molly Sweeney is a Faustian tale of what happens when humans just can’t let well enough alone. We know from Molly’s first monologue this intervention will not turn out well.
In another way, the play is about the nature of reality. How is Molly’s perception of the world different from that of people who see? Can the two perceptions be reconciled? Do we all live in our own, very personal realities?
It’s also about motivation. Why do we behave the way we do? Mr. Rice wants to restore his ruined reputation and find meaning in a life that’s been destroyed by the estrangement of his wife and children. Frank wants adventure and heroism, and Molly is just his latest project. Molly wants to please.
Finally, Molly Sweeney is about relationships. Molly is content with her life. She has friends, a husband and a good job as a masseuse. She submits to two operations mostly to make her husband happy. Her desire to see is vague and mixed with trepidation.
This is not an easy play to stage. It has no action and no dialogue. There are no mysteries to keep us interested and no surprise ending to make us satisfied. But the Keen production transcends all these difficulties through the sheer force of the acting of its three principals.
Sabaugh, Rice and Schrider are nothing short of stunning in a quiet and truly amazing way. They touch us so subtly and effortlessly we are unaware of what they are doing to our heart until we feel it breaking.
Molly Seeeney runs through Nov. 16 at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Ave., http://www.keencompany.org/molly.
Photography: Carol Rosegg