Molly Sweeney at the Gate Theatre

October 24, 2013


The gift of sight can be a terrible thing if you don’t like what you see. That is the premise behind Brian Friel’s Molly Sweeney. Directed by Patrick Mason, it is on at The Gate Theatre until the 23rd of July.

41 years young Molly has been near fully blind since birth and pretty content with that. A husband, Frank, who has ‘spent his life on dozens of mad schemes’ and a brilliant ophthalmologist doused in mediocrity by drink, old age and a broken heart, both hope to find what they are looking for by making her see. While there is no animosity involved, their behavior is cruel in a world where Molly seems to have better vision than those with physical sight.

By having them ask, but never think about what she has to loose, Friel puts the willful ignorance of the seeing man centre stage. He brings those with sight into a world of darkness, sharpening our other senses so that we comprehend why Molly may want it this and no other way

Written as three interlocking monologues, Friel’s beautiful prose gives Molly’s sense of loss, uncertainty and weary acquiescence a universal feel. These qualities are inherent in both other characters and in an audience who may see Molly as a metaphor for the Irish people.

In mounting a piece that is so text-centered, Mason could have better utilized the inherent theatricality in Friel’s writing. There is some attempt of that here with Michael Byrne’s (Mr. Rice) deliberate, pompous posing as the ophthalmologist, and the fleeting movements of the other characters between monologues. Both he and Peter Hanly (Frank) use the rhythm of the text to fill out the form of the piece. The former rushes at the words, slowing off only to pounce again with violent emphasis exposing a scientific mind that is ravaged by regret and false hope. The latter meanwhile escapes into tangents, never facing the thoughts he cannot finish. He gives himself fully to the feeling beneath the words so that Frank is excitable and comic, but also weak, irrational and thoughtless. Effectivley, human.

It is Dawn Bradfield (Molly) who chinks the china however. It’s not that she is bad, nor is she lazy. She makes clear and concise decisions for her character. But she never manages to show the anger, fear or loss of control that sends Molly spiraling.

The audience, who have been charged by the questions Friel asks about giving sight to the blind, want desperately to feel and grapple and really see through Molly’s eyes. The one note delivery here is a barrier to such catharsis.

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