Den Theatre’s FAITH HEALER Will Test Your Theatrical Stamina
If you are going to experience The Den Theatre’s intricate remount of Faith Healer, be prepared because it will surely be a test of your physical stamina. Timing in at almost three hours, Brian Friel’s play was successfully produced in Chicago by the now defunct TurnAround Theatre Company in 1995 and then transferred, becoming Steppenwolf’s first studio show. The Den Theatre revival has all the original players in place, including Brad Armacost, Lia D. Mortensen and Si Osborne now reunited after leaving their roles seventeen years ago. This remount also retains the original direction by J.R. Sullivan.
Friel’s play, originally produced in 1979, is a succession of four separate but integrated monologues that tells the story of a tormented Frank Hardy, the self indulgent “faith healer” (Mr. Osborne); his tormented wife Grace (Ms. Mortensen); and his promoter Teddy (Mr. Armacost). Each monologue sets up a continuation of the other until the final epilogue in which you realize the devastation this rouse has had on its willing and not so willing participants. Each actor takes us on their own psychological journey to hell going into very deep and dark places, which I am sure with the passing of time, has only become more extreme for the trio.
Of the four monologues, it is Mr. Armacoast (prior Jeff winner for this same role) who instantly captures your attention with his boozy diatribe and holds it for almost an hour straight. In fact, Teddy’s monologue is almost a stand alone work in itself. Ms. Mortensen, who is one of Chicago’s best, has many good moments as Grace but is quite monotone in her delivery making the scene a bit trying after the first half-hour. Si Osborne also has his moments with the initial monologue, but it is in his final epilogue we finally get to see how finely tuned his character study of Frank Hardy really is.
The bigger question to be asked is that after so many years, why remount the play as a mirror to what it was before? Surely with the passing of time and the actors’ life experience, a different directional vision may be in order. I had the same issue with the recent remount of A Steady Rain, in which the same actors and director did the exact same staging that happened several years prior. In my estimation, this undervalues the actor to make new choices. Not to say that their performances are going to be a carbon copy of what they were before, but seventeen years is a long time and to have them recreate the same roles with the same staging seems to be a bit disingenuous.
That is not to say you should stay away from Faith Healer. But if you go, please make sure that you are highly caffeinated because you really need to pay attention to the intricacies of the dialogue and not succumb to the almost non-existent pacing. Your attention will surely be rewarded at the end with a nice little twist in tone.
Faith Healer runs through January 20, 2012 at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago. Tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com For more information please visit www.thedentheatre.com and www.theatreinchicago.com