Molly Sweeney (Outcast International, 2013)

I’ve heard people complain that Utica doesn’t have much to offer culturally; if you’re one of them, you need to get to The Other Side this afternoon for your last chance to catch Molly Sweeney. (If you’re not one of them, you’ve already seen it, right?)

Molly Sweeney is a three-character play by Brian Friel, presented as a series of monologues. If that sounds off-putting, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Molly has been essentially blind for most of her life; she marries Frank and he convinvces her to have an operation that might restore her sight. Mr. Rice is her surgeon, a weary, past-his-prime man who has renounced the title “doctor.” It’s a deceptively simple setup.

Zenna Monaghan is captivating as Molly, speaking with a gentle lilt and emphasizing her words as much with the incline of her head as with her hands; it’s a mesmerizing performance. As Mr. Rice, Paul Hernon does more with a pause and a grunt than any actor I’ve seen since Paul Cruskie’s great performances in the 1990’s. He makes it clear that performing Molly’s operation is perhaps more about his own redemption than her needing to see. Thom Capozzella’s Frank is a brilliantly comic portrayal of a man whose energies drive him to begin projects he later abandons – we’re allowed to see the moments (and there are several, each one building on the previous) when he realizes he isn’t as smart as he thought he was.

Director Eileen Tiller-Clanton emphasizes Friel’s metaphors and interconnections without underlining them, and her timing on lighting fade-outs is pristine. The set is wonderfully simple, yet it reveals more as the play goes on (take a clue from the program cover.) Friel’s play is never boring, and often poetic. The issues he presents resonate long after you leave the theater. See this production.