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Shaw Festival Review: FAITH HEALER

Brian Friel ‘Faith Healer’ is the most compelling play of the season and should not be missed!

By: Hermine Steinberg
Published: July 22nd, 2013 in Culture » Stage » News
Peter Kranz in ‘Faith Healer’Pic: David Cooper

Faith Healer is a play that stays with you for days. It not only raises questions about truth and memory, but the fictions we create to sustain our psychological survival. It is storytelling at its best but there are no happy endings here. It is an intense and sometimes deeply morose portrait of how three people’s lives become intertwined, dependant, and are ultimately consumed by their feelings of impotence and betrayal.

Brian Friel has been hailed as the “Irish Chekhov” and considered to be one the greatest English dramatist living today. When you leave the Royal George after seeing Faith Healer there will be no doubt in your mind as to his ability to powerfully reveal the complexity and contradictory nature of human experience and perception, even among individuals intimately connected for most of their lives.

The play is made up of four monologues, beginning and ending with the faith healer himself – Frank Hardy. The second is given by his wife, Grace, and third by his cockney manager, Teddy. Each tell their version of their desperate lives travelling in a van from one “dying village” in Britain to the next in order to eke out a living on the back of Frank who may or may not have an actual gift to heal. Is Frank a con-man, performer, liar and bully, or saint? It turns out he may be all of these things but what is clear is Friel’s shamanic sensibilities, masterfully using chanting, ritual, and language to create a surreal experience in which we question the meaning and truth of such concepts as loyalty, love, and faith. Whether Teddy is speaking about Frank’s “bloody brains” castrating his gift, Frank claiming that Grace is barren, or Teddy being depicted as an ineffectual romantic, impotence and self-loathing soaked in alcohol and cloaked by a veil of self-sacrifice run deeply throughout the play.

This intense production dramatically reveals the tragic lives of three individuals who love and depend on each other, if for no other reason than the fact that they have no one else. These characters also depend on the expertise of veteran actors Jim Mezon, Corrine Koslo and Peter Krantz to bring them to life. The roles are demanding and the characters are complex. What appears to be a simple story becomes an in-depth journey into the human psyche.

The same set is used throughout the play and effectively integrates the monologues of the three characters who never share the stage. Christina Poddubiuk’s weathered grey room serves as a perfect backdrop to the miserable lives of not only Frank, Grace, and Teddy but the desperate people who seek out help from the faith healer. Bonnie Beecher is able to create a dreamlike or otherworldly atmosphere that transports us to into Frank’s mystical world, especially in the last scene. The use of shadow and light is masterful.

Jim Mezon plays the Fantastic Frank Hardy. His presence and authority establish Frank as the charismatic faith healer who is beleaguered by unanswered questions about his gift. However, his strong performance is at times stifled by awkward staging in the first monologue when he keeps moving around empty chairs without purpose. The last scene is absolutely mesmerizing thanks to Mezon’s lazer sharp focus, exposing Frank’s deep sense of futility leading to a self-fulfilled destiny that finally provides him with the relief he so desperately seeks.

Corrine Koslo who delivered an impressive performance last season in Little Sheba now takes on the character of Grace who may at first appear as an uneducated and easily manipulated mistress but emerges as a woman as much an accomplice as a victim in this catastrophic union. She powerfully portrays a woman whose intellectual and emotional life is at odds, drawn to a man who she knows will never truly be able to share his life or even respect her the way she hopes. Her vulnerability, neediness, and anguish is heart-rending.

The role of Teddy, the English manager who claims he is able to keep his business and private lives separate, is played by Peter Krantz. He brings some welcome comic relief but does not allow the audience to forget for one moment the depth of Teddy’s despair and lonliness. This poignant portrayal showcases Krantz’s tremendous acting prowess.

Faith Healer is thought provoking and dark. It is also the most compelling play of the season and should not be missed. However, like all incantations, it’s power grows in potency over time as you think about the many questions it raises about how we experience life, how the present colours the past, and how our future depends on how well we can create memories that sustain us. This is the stuff that theater buffs live for – a play that will keep you and your friends talking and drinking into the wee hours of the night. Luckily, there are plenty of pubs and hotel lounges within a short walk of the historic Royal George theater.

Hermine Steinberg is a young adult/children’s author and high school teacher living in Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Her novel, The Co-Walkers: Awakening, is available through Amazon, Chapters Indigo, and Barnes & Noble. For more information on Hermine and The Co-Walkers, visit www.cowalkers.com

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Related articles: Shaw Festival, Niagara on the Lake, Review, Faith Healer, Brian Friel, The Co-Walkers, Fantasy, Young Adult, Awakening
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