Reviewed by James Karas
Faith Healer is a richly-plotted play that deals with the lives of numerous people over decades and covers dozens of villages in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. It does all of that with four monologues delivered by three actors. This is not your usual theatre but it is story-telling at its best.
Brian Friel has created three fascinating characters who tell their stories directly to the audience. Frank (Jim Mezon) is the faith healer of the title and the first one to address us. He is a faith healer, he tells us, not out of any ability or religious faith but because he can. He is a charlatan, no doubt, but there are occasions when he has “cured” people.
His faith healing is only a small part of Frank’s life and work. He is accompanied by Grace (Corrine Koslo) and Teddy (Peter Krantz) and his relationship with them, his parents, her parents and the people they meet on the road provide a rich storehouse of stories and myths. For the storyteller from Homer’s bards to the Irish tale-spinners, the story is all that matters and facts are almost irrelevant.
Grace is a solicitor and the daughter of a judge, yet she follows the faith healer around dilapidated village halls, is humiliated by him, has miscarriages and still stays with him. Her recollection of events is as truthful as Frank’s even where it differs.
The third member of the troupe is Teddy, a Cockney who used to work with animals. He lives in the squalor, drunkenness and poverty of the world of Frank and Grace. He tells us his side of the story while getting progressively drunk. His job was to warm up the audience before the faith healer came to presumably heal them. He is the third side of the triangle of truth, myth, unreliable memory and personal perception of reality.
The three actors do amazing work in delivering very long monologues that tell dramatic and varied stories. Frank is a bit pompous, sometimes cruel, frequently drunk and always fascinating. He is a faith healer without any faith in anything. There is almost no mention of God and never of Christ. Mezon’s performance is simply marvelous.
Grace is difficult to understand. Her love and loyalty to Frank are incomprehensible. Koslo delivers her monologue seated but there are enough changes in intonation and manner to keep you captivated by her performance.
Krantz is quite different. He is funny and theatrical as becomes the character he represents who used to entertain crowds with animal shows. Again, Teddy’s deep love for Frank and Grace is incomprehensible but that is how this trio of fascinating people works.
Craig Hall’s directing is very detailed and nuanced. Every move from the recitation of the unpronounceable names of villages to the reaching for another drink, to Frank’s last walk off the stage are done with meticulous care.
The set by Christina Poddubiuk consists of a rundown hall that can be in a church or community centre anywhere. It has a few chairs thrown around, the walls have not seen paint for a long time and the atmosphere is drab and depressing.
The four monologues (Frank gets two) present a number of people, many villages even if only in name and the large world of the storyteller.
Worth seeing with no hesitation._____
Faith Healer by Brian Friel runs in repertory until October 6, 2013 at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com.