Chicago Tribune - Highly Recommended

"...For the company's current production of "Faith Healer," by Brian Friel, Garver has once again paired up with scenic designer Brian Sidney Bembridge, a skilled and canny artist who invariably does his best work with Uma. "Faith Healer" is no exception. It is one of the company's strongest productions to date, with a trio of performances that will stay with you long after the show is over." Nina Metz

 

Chicago Sun Times - Highly Recommended

"...under the bold, deeply insightful direction of Mikhael Tara Garver, the three performers in UMA Productions' breathtakingly good revival of the play -- Chris Hainsworth (as Frank Hardy, who plays the title character), Danica Ivancevic (as Frank's wife, Grace), and James Joseph (as Frank's manager, Teddy) -- easily compete with that famous lineup. Obviously there could be no greater compliment." Hedy Weiss

 

Daily Herald - Recommended

"...Brian Friel's engrossing, beautifully written play (comprised of four monologues) about an Irish faith healer, his wife (or perhaps his mistress) and his manager and the event that changes their lives, gets an intimate, well-directed revival courtesy of Uma Productions." Barbara Vitello

 

Chicago Reader - Recommended

"...Mikhael Tara Garvey skillfully directs an intimate, entertaining evening for Uma Productions, made all the more intense by Brian Sidney Bembridge's claustrophobia-inducing set. Chris Hainsworth as the con man is best at bluster, Danica Ivancevic is openly emotional as his mistress, and James William Joseph is hilarious and heartfelt as the manager."Jenn Goddu

 

Windy City Times - Recommended

"...As Frank’s conflicted yet devoted spouse Grace, Danica Ivancevic certainly wins your hearts. As directed by Garver, she may burst about the meeting hall space a bit too much animatedly for an at-edge woman described for her calm demureness by the other characters. But Ivancevic’s resentful emotional longing and tragic sense of loss as Grace (particularly as she describes the death of her child) certainly rings very true." Scott C. Morgan

 

EpochTimes - Somewhat Recommended

"...Faith Healer is directed by Mikhael Tara Garver who evidently understands the script and has taught her actors well- they get it! While I can say that the story is wonderful, I can only suggest that it needs some trimming so that the audience does not lose the storyline- Mr. Friel is indeed a wordsmith, but often almost two hours of brogue on uncomfortable seats can work against a well acted, well directed piece." Al Bresloff

 

ChicagoCritic - Highly Recommended

"...This is a gem of a play. It is flawless—perfect accents, excellent storytelling through vividly stirring solo work that lands Friel’s marvelous language deftly. This is powerful theatre that will quickly engage us." Tom Williams

This show has been Jeff Recommended*

Take the alley to the basement, where `Faith Healer' spins lies

January 19, 2007|By Nina Metz, Special to the Tribune

 

 

 New

While its efforts can be hit-or-miss, Uma Productions has yet to stage a show that does not point to the intriguing talent of artistic director Mikhael Tara Garver. Make no mistake, this is a director looking to change the way audiences think about their surroundings.

 

For the company's current production of "Faith Healer," by Brian Friel, Garver has once again paired up with scenic designer Brian Sidney Bembridge, a skilled and canny artist who invariably does his best work with Uma. "Faith Healer" is no exception. It is one of the company's strongest productions to date, with a trio of performances that will stay with you long after the show is over.

But first, the atmosphere. Audiences enter the Chopin Theatre's basement studio from an alley. (After securing your tickets in the main lobby, an escort will take you down.) It is an unexpected surprise; you think, for a moment, you have discovered a new part of the building.

In fact, Bembridge has constructed a small, narrow, self-contained room in the middle of the basement's traditional open performing area -- creating, essentially, a box within a box, with white stucco walls and exposed wooden beams.

It feels as though you've entered a rural town hall or a church basement, and it is an evocative scene-setter for Friel's 1979 play about an Irish faith healer -- The Fantastic Francis Hardy, "the man on the tatty banner" -- his beleaguered wife and their promoter/road manager.

Told through a series of monologues (the characters never interact), we learn of their shady, shabby tours through Scotland and Wales, where "we were always balanced somewhere between the absurd and the momentous," says Frank (nee Francis) between gulps of whiskey.

Part sham, part shaman, Frank (Chris Hainsworth, with an intense, seedy charm) offers up his own version of events, when he and his traveling companions returned to Ireland for a fateful night at the pub -- when the drinks and jokes gave way to something ominous and violent.

His story matches neither that of his complex and desperate wife, Grace (a wonderful Danica Ivancevic, who's dullish wardrobe can not mask her beauty), nor that of his plucky manager, Teddy (played expertly by James William Joseph), who provides the play with its comic relief, and its profound sense of despondency.

More than a gimmick, the Rashomon setup hits home in unexpected ways. Frank is a man who believes his own lies, a more universal trait than most of us want to admit.

"Spend your life in showbiz," Teddy observes, "and you become a philosopher." He might have been talking about the play itself.Highly Recommended "Faith Healer," Irish playwright Brian Friel’s tour de force tale about the turbulent, shapeshifting nature of love, loss and belief, received a Broadway revival last year featuring the starry trio of Ralph Fiennes, Cherry Jones and Ian McDiarmid. Great actors, all. But now, in Chicago, under the bold, deeply insightful direction of Mikhael Tara Garver, the three performers in UMA Productions’ breathtakingly good revival of the play -- Chris Hainsworth (as Frank Hardy, who plays the title character), Danica Ivancevic (as Frank’s wife, Grace), and James Joseph (as Frank’s manager, Teddy) -- easily compete with that famous lineup. Obviously there could be no greater compliment. True, the UMA actors may be a bit younger than Friel intended. But in many ways this injects the work with an added poignancy. For what we hear in the four soliloquies that comprise this Rashomon-like drama in which the same story unspools from a series of subtly different perspectives, is a tale of passion turned bitter, and faith ground down to despair. And these younger actors make the inevitable downward slide all the more moving. In addition, designer Brian Sidney Bembridge’s set (expertly lit by Jesse Klug), makes us the most intimate participant in Friel’s drama. The stucco-clad, wood-beamed room Bembridge has carved out of a deliberately cramped basement space in the Chopin Theatre turns the audience into the participants in Frank Hardy’s "one-night-only" stands of faith healing. It also wonderfully suggests the tattered van and threadbare bed-sits that often became home for these three travelers, and the endless cold, damp rural pubs and church halls where the faith healer plied his trade to the luckless inhabitants of tiny, isolated villages throughout Britain. Of course all theater -- whether in the form of a con artist serving up false hope, or a "legitimate" actor speaking a grand text -- requires an act of faith on both sides of the stage if healing is to occur. And that may just be Friel’s little inside joke here, even if his story, at moments blackly comic, is the stuff of tragedy. The emotional dynamics among Frank, Grace and Teddy -- who have pinned their dreams and disappointments on each other for 20 years -- are gorgeously limned by Friel. And each of these people tries to be something of a faith healer (successful or not) for the others. Frank is the Irishman with "the gift" -- part true believer, part dazzling charlatan, and forever awash in a sea of self-doubt, self-loathing, lies and alcohol as he barely ekes out a living. He has married far above his station and this only heightens his sense of failure. In public, he calls Grace his "mistress" rather than his "wife" just to hurt her. But Grace, who adores and nurtures him, never wavers. Beautiful, proper and smart (she gave up a career as a lawyer -- and her family’s sense of honor --to run away with Frank), she tries to bear him a child and fails, only adding to their despair. As for Teddy, the high-spirited Cockney "business manager" and ne’er-do-well who loves them both, he puts all his faith in the dream that Frank will make it big one day. He probably should have stuck with his dog and pigeon acts, which he describes in hilarious terms as he muses on the mysterious nature of ambition, talent and success. Hainsworth -- with his luminous face, dark hair and beard, and a rich, confident voice that gains our trust -- has an undeniable charm as Frank, the man who goes one step too far when he makes his "Irish homecoming." (You can only fool some of the people some of the time.) Ivancevic, riveting in her strong but gaunt beauty and clarity, has shone in supporting roles for years, but now finally gets a chance to rule the stage. And rule she does in her searing portrayal of a woman whose heart knows no limits. As for Joseph, he is "fantastic" -- a perfectly fleet English music hall clown, and the ideal mascot who deals in his own form of faith healing. Friel, now 78, and the author of such plays as "Dancing at Lughnasa" and "Translations," often is referred to as "the Chekhov of Ireland." But you also might think of him as Ireland’s version of August Wilson, for his characters’ greatest currency is their language. They speak and the world comes alive. Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun Times 01/15/07 

"Within the Chopin’s basement, there’s a fully enclosed room, like a tiny meeting hall, with a low ceiling, wooden chairs and, at one end, a small stage. Director Garver could hardly get us nearer to the Irish faith healer, Francis (Hainsworth); his lover Grace (Ivancevic); and his English manager, Teddy (Joseph). Yet that forced intimacy never gets us any closer. The monologue drama suffers from the monologue dilemma: how much easier, it seems, to deal with one character at a time; how much harder, really, to make a lone character dramatically viable. Friel’s 1979 play gives the hard-drinking, self-questioning faith healer some nice turns of phrase; people want from him not hope, Francis says, but confirmation of their hopelessness. But a monochrome Hainsworth can’t lend color to Francis’s lackluster narrative. While Grace at least has dramatic conflict (irrational love), and while Ivancevic invests her with vigor and verve, her emotional extremes seem mechanically explained (stillbirth, Francis’s neglect) rather than organically developed. That is, Friel has things to say (about faith, memory, art) but doesn’t credibly say them through his dutifully offered backstories; the idea and story remain detached. And despite Joseph’s flashy cockney showman, so do actor and character—a gap that this gifted director, in past productions, has so efficiently closed. arver cocoons her actors and audiences within the world of a play. Friel’s world would’ve been more inhabitable if he’d made his point that art (and love) is a transformative experience of shared faith by creating such an experience" Novid Parsi, TimeOut Chicago, 01/18/07