By Sarah Meyer
Playwright Brian Friel has brought countless shows to the stage. Molly Sweeney was one of his last, which debuted for the first time in 1994. The show, as you may have guessed, is about Molly Sweeney. Molly is an Irish woman, who has been blind since infancy – over 40 years. Her husband, Frank Sweeney, convinces her to meet with an ambitious doctor, Mr. Rice, and have surgery to restore her eyesight. What this play teaches us, through the lens (no pun intended) of these three characters, is that sometimes things can be too good to be true, and there are unexpected consequences to Molly’s medical miracle. But there is also growth.
Carolyn Kruse, a member of the Irish Theater of Chicago, brings life and animation to Molly Sweeney. Playing the title character, she evokes emotion, and able to beautifully describe how a blind person sees the world. Their sight isn’t visual, rather it’s tactile. Matthew Isler, another member of the Irish Theater of Chicago, who plays Molly’s husband Frank, brings wit, humor and lightness, which this dramatic story needs for balance. Initially you get the sense that Frank is just pushy, and wants Molly to have this surgery so he can have a simpler life. By the end of the story, you realize he loves her, and he loves life and he just wants to enjoy it to the fullest, and he wants the same for Molly.
Mr. Rice, played by Robert Kauzlaric, another member of the Irish Theater of Chicago, gives us the most growth in the play. He is struggling personally and professionally when he meets Molly. Through helping her regain her sight, he regains his own vision of his life, and just like Molly, he starts to see the world in a new way. But, both Molly and Mr. Rice regress when Molly’s newfound sight doesn’t last. Molly’s zesty, happy attitude is destroyed, Mr. Rice is left questioning his career and his place, and both feel lost. One has to apologize and walk away, while the other has to figure out yet another new world.
With only 3 actors, who are on stage the entire time, they have to give it their all to hold the audience captive. This ensemble most definitely does that. The acting was incredible and the Irish accents were spot on. The intimacy and quirkiness of the Chopin Theater was perfect for this moody plot. The set, costumes, lighting and music were all very simple, but worked for the story. The ending is left open, and with many questions. This is definitely not my preferred way for a show to end – where you are left saying “what?”. But I think that was Brian Friel’s goal – to make the audience think about what in life we should be thankful for, what we take for granted and what we can live without.
Photos are courtesy of “Molly Sweeney”