Niagara Gazette

August 22, 2013

Keeping the 'Faith' at the Shaw Festival

By Doug Smith ngedit@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Faith fell on hard times recently on the Niagara Frontier. The heralded “Field of Miracles” revival drew far less than a kneeling-room-only throng to Sal Maglie Stadium. At the Royal George Theatre, an entire row sat vacant for a “Faith Healer” matinee, unheard of at the Shaw Festival, where even ampersands have to stand for “Guys & Dolls.”

“Faith Healer” has a fair history on the Niagara Frontier, a favorite of Buffalo’s Irish Classical. Ireland’s Brian Friel, Arthur Miller with a brogue, wrote the three-character, three-voice reminiscence of a hard time when a man could lay claim to curative powers and make a modest living so long as the knew the way out of town.

“It is,” says the wondrously powerful Jim Mezon in the title role of Francis Hardy, “a craft without an apprenticeship.”

But it has little to do with genetics, cautions the manager/agent with the delicious humor of Irish exaggeration, claiming to have once represented “a dog who could play the bagpipes. He died at the age of four… of pulmonary exhaustion.” Francis Hardy became a Faith Healer, he supposes, because it suited his initials. “If he’d been Patrick Muldoon, he have been Prime Minister.”

Mezon is fantastic as this convoluted character who may, or may not, have actually had the touch. His delivery blends resignation and regret into cocktail of intoxicating realism, no matter how far-fetched the star-crossed tale. His theory: That most who seek his services want actually to confirm their own incurability.

As the manager, Peter Krantz is a lively leprechaun and spinner of colorful yarns until the moment of a stillbirth arrives. Then, it is vivid, as Friel’s words spring to life, and death, not a syllable lost.

The same can not be said for Corrine Koslo as the Faith Healer’s lady. Much of her monologue dissipates into a fog of heavy drinking and heavier accent. She has the misfortune of playing the second half of Act One and by intermission, a few in the house had had enough and departed, one shedding a hearing-aid battery. She’s a fine actress but in this, reality bites.

“Faith Healer” continues to lay on hands through Oct. 6.

Doug Smith has been reviewing theater on the Niagara Frontier since 1969