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02.27.08

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Phaedra

A NEW VISION: Diane Tasca plays a woman with restored sight in 'Molly Sweeney.'

See Change

'Molly Sweeney' experiences the world through new eyes in Pear production

By Marianne Messina


IN BRIAN FRIEL'S play Molly Sweeney at Pear Avenue Theatre, Dr. Rice (John Baldwin) returns sight to 49-year-old Molly Sweeney (Diane Tasca), blind from the age of 10 months. Filled with apprehension the night before her operation, Molly characterizes her hesitance as a "dread of exile, of being sent away, of homesickness." For Molly, gaining sight is also losing a known world. Reminiscent of the sense of "lost culture" that shook the deaf community in the advent of the cochlear implant, Molly looks at her friends and wonders, "Will I ever be as close to them as I am now?" A good, small-town Irish girl (in white blouse and pleated, calf-length skirt of Catholic-school plaid, designed by Tasca), Molly probably wouldn't dream of making the anti-cochlear implant argument: "I don't need to be fixed."

In Friel's spunky Irish cadences, Tasca's convincingly blind Molly stands before the audience and describes swimming, enacting her intimacy with the water, extolling the joy of "just offering yourself to the experience." In this scene and one where Molly dances vital swoosh trails across the floor (shades of Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa) to wild fiddle music (Derek Batoyon, sound), Tasca opens an instinctive window on another way to live in the world.

Full of eloquence and tension, Friel's sequential monologues are delivered by three characters who are always onstage together but never entirely interact, never "see" each other. Metaphorically apt, the monologue device can nevertheless distance the audience, especially when waxing philosophical, and the quick pacing makes it easy to lose a key fact or two. But Tasca can bring an audience to hanging on every word—dread and empathy almost palpable—in an instant. Together with director Dean Burgi, the Pear makes this storytelling device work, helped along by the wit of Molly and husband Frank (Troy Johnson) and the musical lilt in which Tasca and Johnson deliver it.

The monologues also work because the staging is lively—Frank is especially active, pacing, jumping up, sitting back down, often in wonderment at himself or something he's just said. As the restless-minded Frank ("the self-taught husband" Rice calls him), Johnson, portly and bearded, turns this entrepreneurial misfit (Iranian goat cheese farmer crossed with an African beekeeper) in a land of blue-chip thinking into an engaging teddy. As Johnson is engaging, Tasca is riveting, and the balance of their relationship expresses itself over the monologue chain as an interplay of changing rhythms. Thus, Friel gives us a limited/new way of "seeing" relationship that parallels the time-dependent way a blind person must "see" distance.

Against Frank and Molly's energy, the scientific dryness of Baldwin's Dr. Rice stands out. An academic, long since left by his wife, the doctor delivers monologues that are often singled out in a small corner of spotlight in Jim Gross' lighting design. This lonely effect seems to telescope the narrowness of life lived mostly in the intellect. By contrast, Molly and Frank often play out their story in brighter light, with added hues. If Rice is the observer, Frank is the doer and Molly is the experiencer, rotating over theatrical time like three distinct ways of being.


MOLLY SWEENEY, a Pear Avenue Theatre production, plays Thursday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through March 16 at the Pear, 1220 Pear Ave., Unit K, Mountain View. Tickets are $15–$30. (650.254.1148)


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