Uma Productions at Chopin Theatre. By Brian Friel. Dir. Mikhael Tara Garver. With Chris Hainsworth, Danica Ivancevic, James William Joseph.
Within the Chopin’s basement, there’s a fully enclosed room, like a tiny meeting hall, with a low ceiling, wooden chairs and, at one end, a small stage. Director Garver could hardly get us nearer to the Irish faith healer, Francis (Hainsworth); his lover Grace (Ivancevic); and his English manager, Teddy (Joseph). Yet that forced intimacy never gets us any closer. The monologue drama suffers from the monologue dilemma: how much easier, it seems, to deal with one character at a time; how much harder, really, to make a lone character dramatically viable.
Friel’s 1979 play gives the hard-drinking, self-questioning faith healer some nice turns of phrase; people want from him not hope, Francis says, but confirmation of their hopelessness. But a monochrome Hainsworth can’t lend color to Francis’s lackluster narrative. While Grace at least has dramatic conflict (irrational love), and while Ivancevic invests her with vigor and verve, her emotional extremes seem mechanically explained (stillbirth, Francis’s neglect) rather than organically developed. That is, Friel has things to say (about faith, memory, art) but doesn’t credibly say them through his dutifully offered backstories; the idea and story remain detached. And despite Joseph’s flashy cockney showman, so do actor and character—a gap that this gifted director, in past productions, has so efficiently closed.
Garver cocoons her actors and audiences within the world of a play. Friel’s world would’ve been more inhabitable if he’d made his point that art (and love) is a transformative experience of shared faith by creating such an experience.—Novid Parsi