None Too Fragile’s ‘Faith Healer’ is a long gray walk through some murky mists
At the back of the stage hangs a banner, suspended rather unceremoniously from a wooden coat rack. Just as the three characters that we are to meet, it has seen its better days. It is slightly soiled and frayed at the edges and the advertisement reads:
ONE NIGHT ONLY
The play itself is made up of four monologues with two given by the man himself, Francis (Frank) Hardy (Sean Derry), one by Hardy’s wife, Grace (Derdriu Ring) and one by their manager and driver, Teddy (David Peacock). Thankfully there is an extra long break for the WC.
The show, Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer” currently on stage at None Too Fragile is reminiscent of elements of “Waiting For Godot”, “The Postman Rings Twice” and “The Sixth Sense” and weighs in at over two and a half hours plus the fifteen minute intermission. Oh, my aching…back.
Don’t get me wrong, the acting is absolutely terrific if a bit repetitive as each character tells the same story with little bits and bobs thrown in from their own perspective.
Francis Hardy is Faith Healer and a seller of hope, sort of. In actuality it is a hit or miss proposition and always has been. He and his put upon wife along with their manager drive from village to village across Wales, Scotland and lastly their home turf of Ireland with varying degrees of success. The best that Teddy can do is book small church halls in out of the way villages far off the beaten path. It is a brutal road that has Francis drinking at alcoholic levels, Grace having a series of miscarriages and a still birth and Teddy suffering along with them through thick and thin. Teddy loves both the man and his wife but can only watch from the edges.
Grace is herself an enigma coming from a well to do family but leaving the safety of that existence to travel the back roads with an egomaniac con man who refuses to recognize her as his wife. He introduces Grace to new acquaintances as “his mistress.” Over the years this abuse has taken its toll.
Teddy is a hanger on who works from outside the edges of the social circle. He could have managed far more profitable acts but his love for the two drifters overshadows his common sense.
The high-water mark of Francis’ career comes in a small town in Wales, where on a snowy night when not a single “customer” came and they were packing up to leave, ten people entered the hall. They seat themselves as Francis moves among them healing them from a variety of ailments...some serious, some mundane. As a result, they are paid the most money they have ever seen. There is even a write-up in the local paper that Francis carries with him from that day forth. Francis and Grace leave Teddy to fend for himself as they set themselves up in a luxury hotel until the money runs out. To with they return and continue their road journey to its eventual tragic ending.
Even though each character tells the same story but with different embellishments the manner in which their perspective is unfolded is unique. These actors leave nothing on the stage as they totally embrace their personages with all of their defects, shortcomings and false bravadoes. The show is tightly directed by Sean Derry (who also handles the set design). Lighting design is by Louis Williams and sound design by Tom Barnes. Costuming is by Kathryn Connair.
If you have any issues with depression or mental health I would suggest you sit this play out and stay home. It is depressing to the eighth degree as most Irish drama works are. If, however, you feel that you are suitably stable in mind and body to be able to absorb this litany of mental anguish you should avail yourself of this extraordinary example of pure Hibernian dramatization to witness some of the best acting to hit a local stage. I leave it up to you.
The None Too Fragile production of “Faith Healer” will be on stage in their theater located at 732 West Exchange Street, Akron, Ohio through April 22, 2023. For tickets and more information go to https://www.nonetoofragile.com/ or call (330) 962-5547.