Thursday, July 27, 2006

Faith Healer

I paid full price for the ticket, which is $96.50, and for that price, I thought, this play better be good.
I've paid the same price for other Broadway drama productions that have left me deeply disgruntled, and I usually go to the TKTS booth to avoid feeling ripped off altogether. One such ripoff was Doubt, a Pulitzer winner which seemed to me as bland and irrelevant as a Hallmark Movie of the Week.
Faith Healer, by Brian Friel, did not disappoint. It's a dark, beautiful play, and the production directed by Jonathan Kent reverberates in the memory long after one leaves the theater. Faith Healer is three characters doing long monologues, a la Rashomon. Luckily it's Ralph Fiennes, Cherry Jones and the amazing Ian McDiarmid, all at the top of their game, in different ways. This was one evening of the highest quality theater.
Ralph Fiennes, affectionately also known as "my boyfriend", has the most perfect diction on Earth. Listening to his most perfect diction is like being cast under a spell. Not only does every word ring out loud and clear as a bell, but he also does beautiful, subtle musical effects with his sibillant esses and his rrrrs and his t's and his p's. He does not do wild changes of pitch, but by God, what a joy to listen to him. I've seen him do Hamlet and Richard II and it's the same thing. Gorgeous. A friend of mine, who usually complains, as many of us do, of not fully understanding what actors say onstage, was blown away by Mr. Fiennes' clarity.
However, I wasn't that sold on his performance, although it is a very difficult and wonderful role. He seemed very mannered (at times channeling Olivier in The Entertainer) and a bit stiff. I was thinking that a man who plays a faith healer, in this case a conman with an unusual gift, has to have extremely powerful charisma, of a rundown kind. The image that came to mind was Richard Burton, affectionately also known as "the voice of God". But he is no longer. I also thought of Bob Hoskins, and of Kevin Spacey. I think Ralph Fiennes is too elegant to play a snake charmer, and that rough around the edges, slightly vulgar quality, that at least I associate with people of that ilk, was missing for me. Still, Fiennes bought a brainy, icy arrogance to the role, that became more poignant towards the end. He is still, and will always be "my boyfriend".
I had read some critics complain that Cherry Jones was miscast. I fail to understand why they say that. Is it because she neglects to do an Irish accent? She is magnificent and unbelievable, but one thing stood out, particularly in comparison with her British colleagues. What she has in sheer emotional power, she lacks in musicality. She sounded shrill and single-pitched, and after a while it was slightly grating. Still, she was extremely moving, much more natural, less mannered than "my boyfriend", providing an interesting contrast in acting styles. Then there is Mr. McDiarmid, who I believe, won the Tony for his performance. He rocked. I guess for an actor the role of Teddy, the roadshow manager, is as plum as they get, and McDiarmid milked it for everything it had with great spirit and humor and beautiful sadness.
Faith Healer is about lies, and art and the hurt people inflict on each other. It is satisfyingly haunting and grim, and the way each one of the characters tells the audience "the truth" sheds terrible light on themselves and the others. I'm kind of liking it more and more as I think about it. I love it when that happens. You enjoy it, with some reservation while you are watching, but then it comes back to haunt you. That's what theater should be like every time.

1 comment:

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