Barrington Stage All Stars
Julianne Boyd Directs Brian Friel’s Faith Healer
By: Charles Giuliano - Aug 08, 2023
By Brian Friel
Directed by Julianne Boyd
Scenic designer, Luciana Stecconi; Lighting, David Lander; Sound, Fabian Obispo, Costumes, Jen Caprio
Cast: Christopher Innvar (Frank), Gretchen Eglof (Grace), Mark Dold (Teddy)
Barrington Stage Company
St. Germain Stage
Through August 27
Julianne Boyd, the founding artistic director of Barrington Stage Company, retired last year. Unburdened by administrative responsibilities, she has been lured back to direct a dark, moody masterpiece, Faith Healer by Brian Friel (1929-2015) the greatest Irish playwright of his Generation. For this triumphant return she cherry picked a dream team trio of Christopher Innvar (Frank), the faith healer, Gretchen Eglof his long abused wife Grace, and Mark Dold as the whimsical roadie Teddy.
Mostly a self-absorbed charlatan with the occasional miracle cure, Frank and his crew roam the small villages of remote Scotland and Wales bilking the locals with a glimmer of impossible hope.
The stage design and lighting are dark and grim. It contains a generic room with a back wall painted in a bleak, generic, grisaille landscape that could have been created for Waiting for Godot. There is a door and inner space for entrances and exits.
In two acts we hear four monologues- Frank, Grace, Teddy then an anchor leg reprieve by Frank with an ominous and unresolved conclusion.
The quartet of director and actors are all at the top of their game. Boyd has drawn out of them remarkable performances. As an encore she has saved the best for last with one of the finest small works of her long and productive career.
There is a tattered banner hanging on the back wall. It reads “The Fantastic. Francis Hardy. Faith Healer. One night only.” Teddy will later tell us that he rescued it from the trash outside Grace’s abandoned London apartment.
The protagonists more or less tell the same story each in a contradictory way. It is left to the audience to decide what really happened in this sordid tragic saga. There are elements of carny workers on the road that reminded me of the great Italian film La Strada. In both instances it is the woman who suffers from brutal neglect and abuse.
We first meet Frank who, with a certain charm and faltering Irtish brogue, makes the most of putting a positive spin on his alleged skills and profession. Of the rubes how show up with hope and small change he says they come “not to be cured but for the confirmation they were incurable. … That’s why they came — to seal their anguish.”
Each of the monologues commence with a litany of the remote villages they have visited and exploited. The pickings are slim as they rattle about in a dilapidated van which is also often their shelter from the storm.
Garbed in a hat and well worn suit Frank wanders about a stage set with chairs for a potential audience. While he turns on the charm, even before the other testimonies, it is evident that he is lying through his teeth. Though married he describes the long suffering and loyal Grace as his barren mistress. It is one of many vile fabrications that make the case for a truly terrible man who was, in fact, based on a real life character.
The faith healer makes a flimsy case for his alleged “gift.” On one occasion it seems that he did indeed cure ten people. The farmer left his wallet in gratitude and for three days, abandoning Teddy, the couple lived it up until the money ran out.
The emotional locus of the gut punching drama is conveyed in the poignant lament of Grace. In a harrowing, disturbing performance by Eglof, we believe that this woman truly loves a terrible and abusive man. Not only are they married but she has suffered several miscarriages and a stillborn birth of a son. She states that if Frank abandons her she will kill herself. In Teddy’s tale we learn that she is already a ghost.
Given the mordant, downtrodden performances of Innvar and Eglof, nothing prepares us for the off-the-rails comedic genius of Dold’s whimsical Teddy. The always wonderful actor has never been better.
He has a very different and revealing take of life on the road. Seated at a table he takes bottle after bottle of beer from a cooler. While he cuts the legs out of Frank as a liar and bounder we wonder why he hung in for so long. There is a slow reveal that he loved and appreciated Grace more than Frank did.
With curly hair and rakish moustache Teddy swaggers through his tale with the panache of Scaramouche. There is the opening litany of obscure villages. Frank is not the only act he has managed. With flair and zest we learn of Miss Mulato and Her 120 Pigeons and a whippet named Rob Roy who played the bagpipes. The latter is conveyed with such hilarity that it had us rolling in our seats.
How very Irish of Friel to leaven the mordant and grim with outrageous comic relief. Dold is more than up to the task as he gets into his cups.
Then conveying the true story of Grace the mood turns dark as night. In the middle of nowhere the van suffered a broken axle. There is elaborate complexity of how they are abandoned with no help for several days.
Franks wanders off when Grace goes into labor with a stillborn. Teddy does his best to tend to her and clean up the blood. Together they bury the child in a field. He fashions a cross and wonder if it is still there.
Later in London Grace made good on her threat. Bobbies come by for Frank to identify her body. It’s a heart wrenching narrative. Outside her apartment he finds the banner and gets into a squabble with a passerby about alleged theft.
Frank returns often stating that ‘I already told you that.’ There is an uncertain fate as he is about to face a group of ruffians with a disabled man looking for an improbable miracle. Having played out Scotland and Wales he has returned to work Ireland. His last stand about which we do not learn the outcome occurs outside Ballybeg, not far from Donegal Town. Whatever the outcome we feel that Frank gets what's coming for him.
Thanks to Barrington's dream quartet for Boyd's wonderful and memorable encore. Faith Healer is a theatrical gift to the Berkshires.