the transformative power of live theater


ClassicsFest 2010: ‘Faith Healer’

As ClassicsFest 2010 unspools, we’ll be featuring insights from the project initiators about what inspired them to choose their plays and their experience of working on them.

Faith Healer
by Brian Friel

I have been a Brian Friel fan, if that is the correct word for the feelings I have for his work, for a looonnnngg time. I have written a letter of praise and appreciation to this man, and he has written back, so there is a personal feeling as well as a connection to the material. The first play of his I performed in was Lovers: Winners and Losers. We did the Winners portion and I always wondered at the “winners” appellation as the two protagonists are dead. The implication is that they killed themselves. This was a “victory.” They were the “Winners.” I performed this over forty years ago.

My first theatrical success upon arriving in Los Angeles many moons ago was in Philadelphia, Here I Come! and I have performed in Translations in LA, and performed the part of ‘Teddy’ in Faith Healer with my dear friend the late Charles Hallahan performing ‘Frank.’ This was done for Warner Shook at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle. My wife claims to have fallen in love with me again while assaying the ‘Teddy’ character. That is more than a little bit special.

Every time I do a Friel piece something magical happens. They speak to my Irish side. They scream to my Irish side. Ever since performing Faith Healer I have had the notion, dream, plan, what have you, to perform it in the following way: two actors switch off playing Frank and Teddy. I, of course, want to be one of the actors. They would have to be pretty devoted theatre creatures because each of the two roles is back-breakingly difficult in the memorization department—and two so totally different people, a huge challenge and undertaking. The part of ‘Grace’ (“grace”, indeed) is also daunting both in size and scope—a match for Frank, an inspiration for Teddy.

The play appeals to me to this day because of the subject matter and what I perceive as the main focus. It is a “Roshomon” play, where everyone expresses their point of view, and the audience has to decide who is telling the truth—if anyone. Just like in life, their stories vary, and collide, and contradict. But for me the prime dilemma of the play is Frank’s; he is the title character, and the others his….satellites. His central conceit I find so compelling: What do you do when you “don’t have it”? When the muse is absent, when the power of your craft, your gift, is not present? How to conquer the fear? The disappointment? The shame? How to live with the diminution of your power? The question(s) of the pointlessness of existence. The “why go on”-ness of it all. So it speaks strongly to the doubts a performer has—about every facet of his/her life. And while there is a form of salvation in the play, at what cost?

I have had producers say, “oh it’s an ACTORS’ play,” as if it is a pejorative. I say, “Yeah? What is the problem with that?” Perhaps what they really mean is that it is not a commercial piece. I think they worry that you won’t sell tickets with this piece. I know that that is a consideration, but dig in, says I.

And so we are. Let us know what you think. Is a full production something to pursue?

We will give this away and see.

– Gregory Itzin, Actor and Project Initiator

Faith Healer 
plays as a “First Look” on July 31 at 3pm

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