In New York, Kyle Donnelly assisted playwright Brian Friel when he directed his own Molly Sweeney Off-Broadway at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre. She then went on to direct the 3-character drama at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, which starred Jenny Bacon as the blind Irish woman who gains partial sight but nearly loses her bearings. Now Donnelly and Bacon will come to Washington DC's Arena Stage with the play, opening Feb. 12.
Appearing with Bacon will be Richard Bauer, as the whisky soaked surgeon, Dr. Rice; and T.J. Edwards, as Molly's restless husband, Frank. Sets are by Linda Buchanan, costumes by Nan Cibula Jenkins, lighting by Jim Ingalls.
Donnelly's association with Brian Friel goes beyond Sweeney; her mounting of Dancing At Lughnasa at Arena Stage (featuring Bacon) earned a Helen Hayes Award for best production, and she directed Aristocrats in Boston. Donnelly is now in Dublin assisting Friel on his newest play, Give Me Your Answer, Do.
"Friel has an incomparable ability to express joie de vivre in its truest sense," says Donnelly, artistic associate of Arena Stage. "[With] the bittersweet love for all of life's ironies, his writing is always a...heartfelt pleasure to behold."
Production spokesperson Brook Butterworth told Playbill On-Line that unlike the Off-Broadway production, which offered consecutive monologues with minimal movement for the characters, Arena's staging has "a lot of blocking and character interaction, even if they don't exactly talk to each other. It's very lively, and surprisingly, the audience laughs a lot. It also has a lot of technical elements, such as when the bandages first come off, and the lighting tries to artistically depict what Molly's seeing." In the Arena Stage Program booklet, literary manager Michele Volansky asked Donnelly about her working relationship with Friel: "I had not met Brian until the fall of 1994 when I traveled to Dublin specifically to see Molly Sweeney at the Gate Theatre. I would have never tried to contact him directly, having read numerous articles about...his supposed reclusiveness. But what really put the capper on it was an interview he did in The New York Times around the time of Lughnasa, when he said he thought directing was a `bogus career' and he really didn't see the need for directors."
"Needless to say I went," Donnelly continues, "very nervous, but we got on fine. I think he was particularly pleased that I was going to direct the American premiere of his adaptation of A Month In The Country. When he informed me at some point over coffee that `I don't like directors,' I replied that this posed a small problem, because he had now joined our ranks, which made him laugh."
Asked how her direction of Molly Sweeney differed from the author's, Donnelly wrote, "I am interested in exploring the physical flow of the play. Brian basically conceived of the play as three characters sitting in chairs pretty much for the entire evening. I'm interested in finding `snapshots' or visual references for moments in the play. This will involve experimenting with movement and placement onstage, as well as integrating the design elements into these snapshots."
Molly Sweeney's NY production won the 1995-96 Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play and the 1996 Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Off-Broadway Play. Other Friel works include Philadelphia, Here I Come!, Wonderful Tennessee, Making History and Faith Healer.
For tickets ($23-$42) and information on Molly Sweeney, running Feb. 7-March 23 at Arena Stage's Kreeger Theatre, call (202) 488-3300.
--By David Lefkowitz