18 August 2006

Extremely Timely Thoughts

Because it's such a time-sensitive matter, here are my thoughts on Faith Healer closing night. From last Sunday.

(What's that you say? I said I'd write about Step Up? The movie's horrible, I had a fantastic time, and Channing Tatum is not only incredibly hot, but also very very good, and though he can't carry the movie himself, he comes close. There you go.)

So. Faith Healer. One of those strange things where I can't say I loved it, but I’m so glad I went. Even glad I sucked it up and paid money for it. (even more glad(er) that, since I made my suck-it-up decision so last-minute, I waited a few more days to see if any house seats got released, and ended up 10th row orchestra.) First of all, everyone's been smoking a lot of crack about Cherry Jones, saying she was miscast and not good. She was amazing. Best performance in the piece - Ralph Fiennes was oddly mannered, all postures and stiff face-making. It felt very external. (It did work better in the end, illuminated by what the other characters had to say, but I still never really loved it.) Ian McDiarmid was great, but I really don't see why everyone was hating on Cherry Jones. I just completely adore her, and adored her in this. She managed to take a monologue, a past-tense story, and so firmly root it in the character's present moment and present state.

Monologue plays are so tricky that way, so inherently non-theatrical. What I know of Brian Friel’s work I love for the story, and the way he weaves this one is very interesting and artful, but monologue plays often need more poetry, more small-scale language crafting, to sustain them – the words are so beautifully crafted that they draw you in, as there isn’t character-to-character interaction to do it. Which is not to say that Friel’s language is artless. And during the middle two monologues (Ralph Fiennes goes first and last) he does something great with connecting the characters to their present moment – though they’re telling stories, recounting the past, what they say (and what they choose to say or not) comes out of the character’s present, and affects them. Fiennes’ character is trickier – spoiler alert, but hey, the thing closed last week – because he’s sort of speaking from beyond the grave. (He’s telling a story that ends in his character’s death, but he’s not situated in any sort of afterlife – it’s more that the character’s out of time.) In the final monologue there’s the whole layer of hearing his story having just heard the other two versions, but for the first monologue it’s definitely a lack. Or maybe I got distracted by the weird postures Ralph Fiennes kept striking.

And then, at the end, a very weird experience for me - I sometimes have trouble hearing, not hearing, exactly, as much as catching words. So fine, Ralph Fiennes is doing his thing, with a very light (as opposed to thick) Irish accent. (Okay, I do love Cherry Jones, but what was up with her not-accent? After Ralph and her I thought they were doing accents lite, but then McDiarmid busts out this hardcore cockney thing. Hm.) So anyway, the end, and my hearing. The play's winding down, and Ralph says something I don't catch. At first I think he's launching again into the oft-repeated list of Welsh place-names that's strung through the show. So I wasn't worried that the syllable I heard didn't seem to be a word I know. But then the lights go down. And I realize I’ve missed the last word of the play. Which is such a weird feeling.

It sounded like, “At long last, I was renouncing chats,” which I knew was wrong. By the time I met up with James, he didn’t remember, and I couldn’t even be sure I remembered my mishearing – all I had in my head was, “I have such... doubts.” How’s that for a lack of closure. But God bless the interweb, because the next day it took just one Yahoo search to find the line. Very strange to have my experience of the last moment of the play delayed 18 hours. I wish I’d gotten to experience it in the moment, because it's really great, a perfect ending, but I’m glad I got it at all. So to repay my debt to the internet, let me lay this out for anyone looking this up on Google or the blogsearch thing. Here are your search terms: brain friel "faith healer" last line. (I’ll even throw in "last word" for good measure.) And here's your line:

"At long last, I was renouncing chance."

Lovely line, that.

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