Irish play ‘Molly Sweeney’ looks at the difference between sight and reality at Son of Semele theater
By Kara Maddalena
Nov. 12, 2009 at 7:40 a.m.
Imagine having your sight restored only to discover that you were happier being blind. Brian Friel’s play, “Molly Sweeney,” directed by Randee Trabitz, is a seldom-produced yet award-winning Irish play that addresses this conundrum.
The play tells the story of a blind woman whose perception of reality is crushed when her eyesight is fixed. The production seeks to explore the philosophical differences between the ability to see and the capacity to understand.
“This is not your usual ‘Irish Drama,’” Trabitz said.
“Molly Sweeney” is a story told from three different perspectives: Molly (Melina Bielefelt), the protagonist; Frank (Matthew McCallum), her husband; and Mr. Rice (John Ross Clark), a doctor. The story takes place in rural Ireland in the 1990s.
When the audience meets Molly, it is revealed that due to an illness she went blind after 10 months of age. She is presented, however, as a fully functioning, content and independent woman with a career and a husband. But her world changes when her husband Frank, an itching enthusiast for personal projects, decides that he wants to help her get her vision back.
Frank seeks out Dr. Rice to help him fix his wife’s so-called problem. Rice is an interesting character who was once a prominent eye surgeon but is now an alcoholic with a failed practice.
“On the surface Rice is trying to restore Molly’s sight, but in truth he is trying to restore his own tattered career and reputation,” said Ross Clark.
The play makes a poignant point about meddling with other people’s realities. This comes across as Molly is dissatisfied with her surroundings only after her vision is restored.
“I hope that the audience sees the humanity of these characters and the great tragedy that can come from people wanting to do a good thing for all the wrong reasons,” said Clark.
Laura Wong, a second-year MFA costume design student, is in charge of designing the wardrobe for the production and was inspired by the functional clothing of the working class versus the more refined look of the professional class.
“In my research, I loved the simple practicality of the way people dress in rural Ireland and the textural quality of the woolen fabrics. I paired nubbly tweeds and knits in rich colors with patterned pants and blouses,” Wong said. “I also used texture to contrast Molly and her husband Frank with the more affluent Dr. Rice by putting him in smoother, more expensive-looking fabrics, and Molly and Frank in rougher textured garments. Because there are only three characters who are essentially on stage the entire time, I wanted to create enough visual interest in the colors and patterns of the costumes to keep the audience engaged.”
Deeper than differences in social class, the play is about the psychological needs and negotiations of the characters as well, which is also projected through the set design. The set is simplistic in order to magnify the words of the characters. Its stark appearance is done to give complete attention and limit distractions from the audience.
“The three characters are in an abstract world which we are portraying with the use of scrim, light and projection,” Trabitz said.
The characters in this play each serve to reveal a different facet of humanity based on their individual desires and ambitions.
“(The play will) challenge college students to come and test their own listening abilities and see how much they can really take in from one viewing,” Trabitz said.
Ultimately, the play seeks to convey the events taking place from three entirely different points of view, each with its own motive and emotions. All three characters have different opinions of how life should be lived, and their story is about what happens when those opinions are forced on others.
“I think this show will inspire some heated debate. ... All of us can see bits and pieces of ourselves in these characters – good pieces and bad pieces. In that respect, it’s easy to relate to and feel sympathy for each of the of them,” McCallum said.
“What is more difficult to come to terms with is that they are all responsible for the events that take place. Perhaps that’s what the show is really about, ... taking responsibility for your own life and allowing others to take responsibility for theirs.”