Review of Molly Sweeney at Albion Theatre

    Molly Sweeney consists of three interwoven monologues. The characters in Brian Friel’s play tell their own sides of a common story but never speak to one another. This unusual structure reflects the cross purposes that set the course of the action.

    In the current production by Albion Theatre, director Robert Ashton’s approach to the play shows it off to its best advantage.

    The title character is a 41-year-old woman who lost her sight when she was 10 months old. Instead of succumbing to self-pity, she has made a deeply satisfying life for herself in Friel’s fictional Irish town of Ballybeg.

    Molly has lots of friends and activities and works as a masseuse to support herself and her unemployed husband, Frank. He is less interested in getting a job than in getting behind a cause he believes in. His latest cause is Molly. She consults an eye surgeon, Mr. Rice, about having an operation because Frank thinks Molly has nothing to lose, not because she wants her sight restored.

    Mr. Rice was once at the top of his field, but his life and his career fell apart after his wife left him for a colleague. Now he is practicing far from the spotlight, seeking refuge from his disappointment in drink.

    Molly’s case offers him hope for redemption. It would be a rare accomplishment to restore sight to someone who had become blind shortly after birth. “The number of cases over the past ten centuries,” Mr. Rice says, “is not more than twenty.” For him as for Frank, what Molly wants is secondary.

    The operation removes the physical cause of Molly’s blindness, but a more daunting obstacle remains. She does not have the experience that enables sighted people to make sense of what they see. The road ahead for Molly is far more challenging than anyone imagined.

    In the Albion staging, all three characters are onstage throughout the play, but they do not follow the script’s suggestion to restrict themselves to separate areas. Ashton’s direction lets the characters move about freely among several locations defined by props in Erik Kuhn’s scenic design—a bed, a bench, a table, a desk in Mr. Rice’s office. The freedom of movement lets actors invest their absorbing performances with energy that is often lacking in monologues. The fine cast includes Maggie Wininger as Molly, CJ Langdon as Frank, and Paul Gutting as Mr. Rice.

    The production is enhanced by Tracey Newcomb’s costumes, Eric Wennlund’s lighting, Robert Ashton’s sound, and Marjorie Williamson’s graphics and set painting.

    Molly Sweeney continues on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 31 at the Kranzberg Black Box Theater, 501 North Grand Boulevard.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by John Lamb
    From the left, CJ Langdon as Frank, Maggie Wininger as Molly, and Paul Gutting as Mr. Rice in
    Molly Sweeney.