Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 1, 2010

Molly Sweeney

Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA
through July 11, 2010
By Karolina Sadowicz

What would a blind woman have to lose by regaining her sight through surgery? That's the question explored in Brian Friel's "Molly Sweeney," the story of a woman blind since infancy, her quirky crusader husband, and a disgraced ophthalmologist who sees her as his redemption. The answer, as well as the search for it, is exhausting and painfully eye-opening.

Molly Sweeney (Rebecca Brooksher), Frank Sweeney (Chad Hoeppner), and Mr. Rice, the doctor (Kevin Hogan) all remain seated on stage during both acts, facing the audience, themselves, and never one another. The play is an interplay of monologues told in past tense, slowly revealing the course and culmination of the story.

Hoeppner makes the most of Frank's mad stories of Iranian sheep herding and insatiable wanderlust to create a lovable, believable character. He is distracted and frenetic, but genuinely curious about everything in the world, and devoted to curing his wife's blindness. Hoeppner also brings much needed energy and physicality to an otherwise static presentation.

As Molly, Brooksher is cheerful, resilient, independent, and unassuming without seeming too naïve. She is willing to undergo surgery to please Frank, and even her doctor, but is tentative about entering a sighted world. She has never felt handicapped, and faces the possibility of leaving a behind a world she understands in ways she feels she can't explain to others, and trading it for one that seems terrifying and overwhelming.

Mr. Rice's personal history clouds his judgment of his patient's needs, allowing him to objectify her and her sight in a way similar to Frank's. He comes across as unsympathetic and self-absorbed, but is not the only one to blame.

Each character meanders to his or her destination through memories, vignettes, and seemingly unrelated stories. Because the monologues are of substantial length, the play loses momentum, and the audience strains to focus on the rich level of details in Friel's writing so as not to miss anything relevant. The writing is lush and poignant, full of longing, irony, and at times humor, but it seems better suited to the page than the stage, where pacing is crucial.