By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
In his 1996 play, Molly Sweeney (now at Son of Semele Theatre) Irish dramatist Brian Friel applies this idea to the neurology of seeing and understanding, via the 41-year old woman of the title (Melina Bielefelt), who lost her sight at the age of 10 months, and has been doing just fine without it. But not fine enough for her gregarious, unemployed husband, Frank (Matthew McCallum), an enthusiast for life, a drifter and a master of failed schemes. In an attempt to get his wife to see, he plows into the Ballybeg office of a once maverick and now alcoholic optician, Dr. Rice (John Ross Clark). The characters nary interact in real time but tell the stories of their lives through intercut personal arias that are so rich in local color and composition, you almost forget that the dramatic action consists of isolated storytellers ruminating on the past. Director Randee Trabitz (a onetime Weekly contributor) sets her actors in front of and behind translucent scrims (designed by Sybil Wickersheimer) — amplifying the theme of hindered vision — and accompanies the speeches with John Zalewski’s hauntingly subtle, atonal sound design.
Molly Sweeney’s plight is that after surgery, when she can medically see, she’s incapable of processing the visual signals into something she can comprehend. Meanwhile, with sight comes the diminishment of her tactile senses, leaving her exiled to an ennui bordering on madness. (The play is based on a neurological case written about by neurologist Oliver Sacks.)
McCallum’s exuberance as Frank strains to the outer edges of bluster, juxtaposed against Clark’s somber, pained Rice. Sweeney is as much a victim of their egos as of her own complicity in their manipulations. Bielefelt’s Molly carries the play with a physically and emotionally detailed, intoxicating mix of intelligence and tenderness. She is driven insane because eventually she can’t tell the difference between what she’s seeing and what she’s imagining — much like walking down Hollywood Boulevard.
MOLLY SWEENEY By BRIAN FRIEL | At SON OF SEMELE THEATRE, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; through Dec. 20, Jan. 7-8, 10-17. (800) 838-3006. oasistheaterco.org.
ACCOMPLICE: HOLLYWOOD | Created by Tom Salamon and Betsy Salamon-Sufott | Various locations throughout Hollywood | AccompliceTheShow.com.