By William Wolf

MOLLY SWEENEY  Send This Review to a Friend

It is amazing how moving a story can be when told by three actors, with each only giving monologues directly to the audience but not interacting. Such is the artistry of Brian Friel, whose “Molly Sweeney” is being revived in a compelling, touching production by the Irish Repertory Theatre. The staging by director Charlotte Moore is impeccable, and the level of acting is an achievement of beauty.

Geraldine Hughes gives a luminous performance as Molly, the blind-from-childhood woman in Donegal, Ireland. Her early description of her relation to her surroundings and the loving attention of her father is so exquisitely written and delivered that the play is off to a wonderfully poetic start.

Later, when Molly has had surgery and is describing the anxiety she feels when the bandages come off and the results will be tested, her acting, coupled with Friel’s descriptive text, is almost unbearably poignant. Throughout the play Molly projects the demeanor of a person who has grown up with blindness, is living and breathing a life of trying to connect with the world about her and has achieved her own way of coping.

Jonathan Hogan is superb playing Mr. Rice, Molly’s surgeon, who tells of being consumed with the unexpected opportunity to attempt to restore her sight and thereby scoring a belated medical coup. In the process he gives a portrait of a man dedicated to his patient while also describing past strain in his personal life. I have seen Hogan many times over the years and this is one of his finest achievements.

Ciarán O’Reilly is also excellent as Frank, Molly’s affable husband, optimistically committed to seeking surgery and believing in the possibility of its success. He is a man with a thirst for knowledge and experience, and O’Reilly brings out his lively personality. Friel also makes him a vehicle for the injection of humor, and O’Reilly makes the most of this. So does director Moore, who apparently recognizes the need for levity where it can come through naturally.

A major plus in Moore’s direction is how she spotlights the monologues. The performers don’t just sit in chairs facing the audience and take turns speaking. When one is talking, the other two retreat into various stage positions that leave them present for the audience to contemplate, but without detracting from the monologue under way. The simple set design by James Morgan lends itself to this arrangement. The lighting design by Richard Pilbrow and Michael Gottlieb also contributes importantly. Changes in lighting intensity complement Molly’s emotions at key moments.

Of course, the big questions are: What happens to Molly’s eyesight after the surgery and what is the effect on her life? Friel provides the answers dramatically, primarily through Molly’s reflections, and the results are psychologically painful. This stimulates interest in how in tune the outcome may be with medical experience. But everything in the play and the production makes the story as dramatically credible as it is emotionally affecting. The Irish Repertory Theatre, a prime source of pleasure year after year, should be particularly proud of this achievement. At the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-727-2737 or


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