Brian Friel’s Molly Sweeney and Philly’s Lantern Theater go hand-in-hand. Starring Geneviève Perrier, Merrill Peakes and Anthony Lawton, directed by Peter DeLaurier.
Brian Friel, the toast of Greencastle, was an Irish dramatist, and short story writer. As well as a man most often considered “The Chekhov of Ireland.” That sobriquet is most apt in considering the existential dilemma and the physical and spiritual transformations that exist between the three characters, in the two-act, Molly Sweeney. Now running virtually through Philly’s Lantern Theater Company until Valentine’s Day.
Inspired by Oliver Sacks’s essay “To See and Not See,” and directed here by Peter DeLaurier, the series of monologues by its three characters with no interaction in which to speak, “was perfect for the safe distancing of the pandemic,” said DeLaurier of staging the work at St. Stephen’s Theater on 9th and Ludlow. That, however, does not mean that there is a lack of tension or vigor among the three characters. Molly, a woman blind since infancy undergoing an operation in the hopes of restoring her sight. Portrayed by Geneviève Perrier. Her husband Frank, portrayed by Ian Merrill Peakes. And Molly’s surgeon, Mr. Rice by Anthony Lawton, who, when not busy at the Lantern in the many roles of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is a keen baker and sharer of home-baked goods.
Together with filmmaker Andrea Campbell, associate producer Rebecca Smith, and multi-hyphenate Christopher Colucci, the world of DeLaurier/Friel’s Molly Sweeney is a blank slate, no less intense for its sparsity of set design or décor. Instead, DeLaurier and his three actors craft a poignant, tender yet wrenching forcefulness when considering how independent lives without conventional sight might indeed be better by a conventional life with full, but dulled faculties.
In his notes for the play, Lantern Theater Company Artistic Director Charles McMahon said, “Molly Sweeney is driven entirely by internal experience processed through memory, and meaning is derived from the reexamination of those past events. It is about deep and vital truths of our humanity being revealed by the characters’ own honesty with and about themselves. Playwright Brian Friel is giving voice to the very subtle and internal experience of his characters. There is no external visual representation of the rich and complex worlds inhabited by Molly Sweeney, Frank Sweeney, and Mr. Rice. Nonetheless, as with any great storytelling, we the audience are inevitably invited to create our own visual world of the events described by the characters. In this case, the work of the filmmaker must be very subtle and delicate. The goal is to allow the story to grow and fill out in its own time and rhythm, to keep the eye engaged, and to keep the technical work of the filmmaking from intruding on the experience of the story.”