Flight Path Theatre, December 9
She didn’t want it. She did it for her husband Frank, who thought the greatest gift that Molly could receive was the sight she’d lost when 10 months old. That was 30 years ago, so she is self-sufficient and content in her tactile, olfactory world, working as a masseuse at a health club, and made rapturous by the simple act of swimming.
Meeting at the health club, Frank and Molly were married inside a month. Frank has what Molly’s ophthalmologist, Paddy Rice, astutely calls “the indiscriminate enthusiasm of the self-taught”. Frank’s auto-didacticism has rendered him a nerdish polymath, his areas of endeavour including bees, Iranian goats and whales. Molly’s eyes are his latest obsession.
Brian Friel’s 1994 play is a masterclass in the challenge of sustaining narrative tension via alternating monologues that are swarming with subtext. Molly (Grace Naoum), Frank (Matt Abotomey) and Rice (Yannick Lawry) swap their accounts of the background and aftermath of the latter surgically gifting Molly some semblance of sight. The excruciating irony is that the two sighted characters’ vision is clouded by self-interest. Frank is a do-gooder of the “I know best” variety, and Rice is motivated by professional vanity: pulling off the long-odds operation might restore some sheen to the reputation he’s been drinking away since his wife dumped him for a colleague. The elation he feels is not for Molly, but at his own virtuosity.
Like so much Irish theatre, the play would sink into a bog of its own brooding were it not buoyed by humour, and were the two men not so warm-hearted, despite their gaping fault-lines. The story is ultimately the tragedy of Molly, whose life is undone when the stillness and reassuring darkness she has long accepted are shattered by intolerable glare and freneticism.
All three performances in this Clock & Spiel production directed by Hailey McQueen are exceptional. Naoum had a lapse in the first minute when she acted with her eyes, but thereafter she settled into a performance that was by turns fierce, exultant and wrenchingly desolate. Perhaps the ending could have been even more emotionally telling, but Friel’s art transcends the vulgar world of pulling numbered heartstrings, and McQueen and her three actors profoundly grasp the great writer’s harrowing intent.