February 27, 2004





Ireland reduced to clunky allegory


You don't need extraordinary powers of perception to see where "Molly Sweeney" is headed. Brian Friel's didactic, overdetermined three-hander announces its tragic arc from the first scene, in which saintly, sightless Molly (Elizabeth A. Genge) recounts her father's lessons in touch, smell, and sound.


"Trust me, you're not missing a lot," he tells his blind daughter in a whisky-tinged whisper.


Apparently Molly doesn't take his word for it, as she later submits to corrective surgery at the insistence of her enthusiast husband Frank (Dan Conroy), who for all his voracious reading apparently overlooked any cautionary tales about the cognitive challenges faced by the newly sighted.


Equally blithe about the consequences of her operation is the washed-up sawbones himself, Mr. Rice (Mark Hein), who sees it as a chance to revive his faltering career. Of course, he's awfully sorry--if troublingly unsurprised--when his "miracle Molly" doesn't take to sight so easily, slipping into a "borderline country" between the real and the imaginary.


In short, courageous Molly is a cipher, a victim--Friel's default vision of Ireland and the Irish. In less doting hands than those of director Marianne Savell, who lingers earnestly over every insight and equivocation, this fatalism might be less tiring.


But even with the fine efforts of her actors--Conroy is particularly offhanded and inviting, and Genge's face takes on a hauntingly beatific cast as Molly regresses--"Molly Sweeney" is a long sit. Its tidy object lessons and thematic reiterations, rendered in knowing, often flowery monologues rather than dramatized, make it feel like a cross between a TV movie and a classroom lecture. Visionary it's not.

--Rob Kendt


"Molly Sweeney," Soft Landing Productions and the Eclectic Company Tehatre at the Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., N. Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. $15. (818) 508-3003. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.