Monday, February 17, 2014

Lyric Theatre, 'Molly Sweeney': Seeing the Light

Abigail Graham makes a picturesque production out of Friel's lowly play.

Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Feb 8-Mar 8

My review of Molly Sweeney by Brian Friel coming up just as soon as I remember the high summer of my 32nd year ...

The immense licence that Brian Friel gives the monologue, where spoken description of offstage events creates drama in lieu of scenic action, can make you wonder: with the primacy of auditory over visual, is Friel trying to write for the blind?

There’s always been something opaque about Molly Sweeney: the rarely staged 1994 play where an operation (lifted from an Oliver Sacks article) to restore a woman’s sight seems designed to consider our sensual navigations of the world. Faced with a static production history, Abigail Graham's direction seeks to develop the play visually.

For instance the sweetly Sweeny, played with demure by Dorothy Duffy, rocks back and forth on a swing that also acts as a psychologist’s metaphor for an oscillation between emotional extremes. Childhood images such as a lime tree, now rupturing through the floorboards of a family home, evoke a discreet fall from naturalism, as if Signe Beckmann’s shapely set and Chahine Yavroyan’s lemony lighting have brought us Molly’s off-center imagining of the visual world withheld from her.

Edging the production on is Ruairi Conaghan’s risible turn as entrepreneurial husband Frank, sounding out philosophical treatises and mad schemes to buy beehives. Along with Molly’s surgeon Mr. Rice, a stiff intellectual who Frankie McCafferty carefully elicits insecurities from, there is combined hope of a miracle.

Yet seeing and understanding are not the same thing, and if Molly Sweeney can regain her sight would she be able to resolve her tactile interpretation of the world with one based on intense vision? This picturesque staging of Friel’s lowly play might discern a new world altogether, where neither the blind nor the seeing are prejudiced.

What did everybody else think?

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