Molly has been functionally blind since childhood. But the disability doesn't seem to impair her. She seems to have adapted, developing remarkable insight into the nature of people around her.
One of those people is Frank (Tom Turnley), Molly's husband and a great one for causes. Frank gets it in his head that Molly (Jill Cary Martin) can be cured. As it happens, Mr. Rice (Jack Reule), a leading eye surgeon at one time, has come to live in Ballybeg. A drunk who has fallen from professional grace, Rice is dubious at first, but he eventually comes to see Molly's case as an opportunity to redeem himself.
Therein lie the seeds of tragedy in Brian Friel's Molly Sweeney. Rice and Frank have a lot riding on Molly's case, but neither stops to consider the effect their ambitions may have on her. In an especially powerful moment, the night before the surgery, Martin expertly captures Molly's terror at the prospect that regaining her sight might make her lose the special knowledge of the world that sightlessness allows her.
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The success of any production of Molly Sweeneyrests on the storytelling abilities of its actors. This production is anchored by Martin's beautifully nuanced performance. Her Molly starts out as a woman perfectly comfortable with herself and her world; if anything, Molly's blindness is a sort of blessing, allowing her to overlook some of life's uglier truths. Her post-surgical decline is painful and haunting.
Turnley nails Frank's ebullience, finding great charm in a character who could come off as an ass. Reule's Rice is somewhat less graceful; he misses much of the character's darkness and the inherent arrogance of a man who literally has the power to restore sight to the blind. Director David Colwell's simple staging makes excellent use of the Chance Theater's intimacy, which underscores the intimate nature of this play.
Just about the only glaring flaw in this production is a technical one—but it's one you can't overlook: Ron Wyand's sound design is both intrusive and unnecessary, underlining dramatic moments with a heavy-handed obviousness the rest of the production thankfully avoids. Ironic: in a play about blindness, the evening's biggest misstep centers on sound.
Molly Sweeney at the Chance Theater, 5576 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, (714) 777-3033. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through Oct. 27. $13-$15.