Volume 91, Issue 62

Tuesday, January 20, 1998

Little Bo Greek


Play sheds theatrical light on the meaning of darkness

By Sara Marett
Gazette Staff

Do we understand the world with our eyes or our mind? If we stumble in the dark, do things become clear when illuminated?

Brian Friel's play, Molly Sweeney, explores the life of a blind Irish girl who, at the hands of an alcoholic optometrist and an over-zealous husband, regains her sight. Directed by Miles Potter at The Grand Theatre, the three-actor cast sits on a dark stage with a lone fiddler and takes turns coming into the light to tell their story of Molly Sweeney.

Molly, played by Nancy Palk, is a frail but confident woman in a world of darkness. R.H Thomson is her husband, Frank, who is unemployed but always has a plan in the works. Dr. Rice, played by John Neville, is a struggling optometrist who is past his prime and looks to Molly as his opportunity to get back into the limelight.

In her blind world, Molly is educated by her father, who refuses to send her to a school for the blind. Instead, he shows her the world by holding her upside-down in a garden of flowers and teaching her to distinguish them by their velvety petals and sticky stems. Molly and Frank live on her meager earnings as a massage therapist and enjoy nights of dancing and drinking with their neighbours.

Molly does not see her blindness as a handicap, but rather an attribute to her personality. It is for this reason she feels regaining her sight is actually taking something away from her.

Her eccentric husband Frank is obsessed with projects – he keeps Iranian sheep for their cheese, saves drowning badgers and tries to solve the economic problems of Ethiopia. His constant digressions and infomercial-like philosophies add a touch of bizarre humour to the otherwise melancholy script.

Enter Dr. Rice, a world renowned optometrist who is looking for an international come-back. Performing a miraculous operation on Molly is his ticket to stardom and perhaps a cure for his shaky operating hand – or so he thinks.

As the bandages come off, Molly comes face to face with a world that is foreign to her. She is naked without her blindness and although she can now "see" the world around her, she does not understand it. The frustration of being lost in a world of light forces Molly to retreat back into her blind world.

Visually, the play is static – as all three characters remain on stage throughout, each taking turns in the spotlight for individual monologues. Movement and props are limited to three or four wicker chairs in which the characters tell their tales. Without much on-stage action to distract the audience, the importance of the words and emotions of the characters is emphasized.

Throughout the performance there is no discussion between the characters – each presents his or her own unchallenged version of the story. The lighting of the stage and performers echoes the exploration of themes of light and darkness within the play. A Celtic fiddler dramatizes the emotions of each character and provides relief in moments of awkward silence.

Friel's play is unique in its presentation. The audience is captivated by Molly's strength and determination, by Frank's energy and by Dr. Rice's hope and vulnerability. As they criss-cross the stage in their storytelling, each character invites us into their world of darkness and light.

Molly Sweeney is being presented on The Grand Theatre Mainstage until Jan. 31. Call the box office at 672-8800 for showtime and ticket information.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998