The story remains as intriguing as ever: A young woman, blind since her tenth month, considers undergoing surgery that could restore significant aspects of her sight. Because she is perfectly comfortable in the world she has built around gardening, swimming, neighbor visits and being tended to by her energetically garrulous husband Frank, opting for the procedure isn’t an easy decision. Frank and her surgeon, Mr. Rice, tell Molly she has nothing to lose, but she senses just the opposite.
The ramifications of Molly Sweeney’s choice, and its effect on the two men in her life, compose the arc of Brian Friel’s 1994 drama, currently in revival by the Keen Company at off-Broadway’s Theater Row Theater. A small-scale troupe, they have staged the play on a simple set with Molly confined to a small patch of grass and flowers and her men traversing its periphery – that is, when all three aren’t sitting, sitting, sitting and talking, talking, talking.
Not to each other, mind you. Like Friel’s Faith Healer – another worthy, downbeat drama by the great playwright of Dancing at Lughnasa and Philadelphia, Here I Come – Molly Sweeney is told completely in monologues. Our three lost souls each tell snippets of the story, so it is incumbent upon the audience to pay close attention to hints one of the trio will drop that will later be elaborated upon by the others. In that way, the piece also resembles Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, even though that play utilizes traditional dialogue.
But whereas the current Broadway Betrayal has a fluidity that keeps us hanging on every word, a certain dullness permeates nearly all 150 minutes of this static Sweeney. The actors, Pamela Sabaugh (Molly), Paul O’Brien (Mr. Rice) and Tommy Schrider (Frank), are all believable and clear in their presentations, and the play hasn’t been tinkered with by director Jonathan Silverstein, yet the repetitions and roundabouts in Friel’s writing – which can be ignored in livelier Molly mountings – turn irksome here.
Monologues need not be undramatic. In shows as disparate as Sea Wall/A Life and Bella Bella, the personalities on view are big enough to carry us through yards of exposition, tangential anecdotes and past-tense storytelling. That should be the case with Molly Sweeney as well, but here, a tale that should be disquieting proves merely quiet.