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Molly Sweeney: A subtle, sensual look at the power of imagination

By Bence Olveczky

Molly Sweeney

Boston Playwright's Theatre

949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

March 13, 14, 19, 20, 21 at 8 pm

March 29 at 2 pm.

$20 on Fridays and Saturdays

$17 on Thursdays and Sundays.

$15 with student ID

Irish dramatist Brian Friel's Molly Sweeney, now playing at the Boston Playwrights' Theatre, is a sheer delight for the soul and an intellectual challenge for the mind. The production by the award-winning Nora Theatre Company lends an unexpected warmth to late winter with its loving portrayal of Molly Sweeney, a blind woman in search of "sightedness".

Molly Sweeney (Judith McIntyre), blind since birth, leads a content and fulfilling life despite her disability. She is happily married to Frank (Paul Kerry), a passionate and impulsive champion of good causes and a true autodidact in subjects encompassing Iranian goats, blue-back salmons, and Ethiopian bee farming. Frank becomes increasingly fascinated by his wife's impaired vision and endlessly researches ophthalmology and philosophical issues related to her blindness. With his boundless energy and enthusiasm, he finally convinces Molly to undergo a series of operations that could restore her sight.

Their hopes are tied to Mr. Rice (Richard Mawe), a world renowned eye surgeon, who fled New York and his career for the Irish countryside after his wife left him for one of his colleagues. He still prides himself in having been a "young Turk" - a fearless doctor, respected and celebrated wherever he appeared. His dormant ambition of proving himself one last time comes alive when he meets Molly.

Molly, substituting her lack of vision with beautiful imaginary images, is at first reluctant to go through the ordeal, but is convinced when she sees the importance her operation has for Frank and Mr. Rice.

Expectations and anticipations grow as the moment nears when Molly is to discard her bandage and unveil the result of the operation. Miraculously she regains her sight. First bewildered by the sensual overload, Molly soon enters a state of profound disillusionment as her safe and secure world, created by her vivid imagination, is swapped for a reality she is not ready to deal with.

As a result, Molly becomes "blindsight" - her vision is clear and her movements respond to what she sees, but none of the images reach her consciousness. In her mind the world around her has grown darker than before the operation. She spends her days in a hospital, awaiting letters from Frank, who's ambition and hunger for life has propelled him to Ethiopia, where he leads a relief mission.

The play is written as a series of monologues, and unfolds as the three main characters tell their own versions of Molly's recovery from blindness. The implied story is rarely acted out, and it is left to us, the audience, to piece it together. It is as if we enter Molly's world and recreate a reality that is a product of our own imagination. It is a reality so full of love, faith and navet, that we want to hold on to it as we exit the theater. Facing the cold streets of Boston after the two-and-a-half hour play, we sympathize with Molly and her longing for a world beyond reality, beautified by illusion.

This sensual and subdued production, directed by Scott Edmiston, succeeds in guiding its audience through Friel's eloquent play. It is helped by a remarkable cast who play their roles with great insight and skill. They bring to life three utterly lovable and authentically human characters, complete with flaws, insecurities, and thick Irish accents. The accompanying Irish folk music and the minimalistic stage design sets the mood and creates an atmosphere that is very much in tune with Brian Friel's own bittersweet and melancholic world.

Molly Sweeney is a subtle, yet overpowering production that lingers on in your mind for a long time. It is a rare gem - go and see it while you can.