Review of “Faith Healer” 

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This is my first published review.  It appeared in the October 11, 2017 issue of “Whatzup” in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  I want to thank my colleague Kevin Smith for recommending me and helping me have this opportunity!

For decades Hollywood movies and romance novels have leaned on consumers’ unwavering desire to be entertained without the nuisance of actually thinking. They apply formulaic plot lines and rarely add little more than a short-term distraction with no real substance. Conversely, live theater audiences flock to their seats because they expect to be entertained and to gain perspective. If you prefer the latter of these two groups, you will not be disappointed if you see Faith Healer, currently running in the lower-level theater of First Presbyterian Church.

At some point in life, many people may internally or externally debate whether or not faith ever really means anything or actually has any real impact. These and other questions of the soul and of our existence–and more directly how our faith in others affects each of us–are presented in this performance, which runs until October 21 in downtown Fort Wayne.  

In a drama that also deeply explores issues such as Truth and Shame, Thom Hofrichter’s 2017-2018 season directorial debut at the historic First Presbyterian Theater shifts internally and examines many of life’s toughest questions. Hofrichter chose this drama rather selfishly, he admits in his director’s notes, because he has been a long-time admirer of the language and themes of Irish playwright Brien Friel’s introspective, soul-examining play. Theatergoers are in for a monologue-driven wallop starring three seasoned First Prez veterans.

The three main characters each recall multiple events they experienced together while travelling through Wales, Scotland, and Ireland from the late 1950s to the late 1970s.  

FPT mainstay Austin Berger leads off this performance as Francis Hardy, a likeable but heavily flawed man who has spent his adult life examining his own existence and abilities through decades of performing a one-man travelling exhibition as a self-described “Faith Healer.” Because there is nary a scene where multiple characters interact, Francis (”Frank”) begins this tale by revealing what could very well be his truest self more to a non-existent listener than he apparently ever did to the two people who devoted their lives to him. It is only when the other two characters later present their stories that the audience begins to question if anything he’s said so far is true.  

Co-star Nancy Kartholl, whose FPT resume includes highly esteemed roles such as Vivian Bearing from WIT and Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello,  exquisitely performs the rather tainted and unrefined Grace Hardy. Going against the wishes of her father, she chose a life with Frank, who, when they met, seemed to be her life’s missing puzzle piece. Ironically, Grace, clearly jarred by the events recalled during her lengthy monologue, exhibits anything but what her name might indicate. Kartholl arrests the stage as she achingly dispels information that Frank had either conveniently omitted, forgotten, or perhaps did not actually occur whatsoever. Enter: the audience’s aforementioned role in deciphering the Truth.

The third member of this tragic-laden threesome is Teddy, Frank’s manager, played by a visibly (intentionally) shaken Daniel Bulau. Previous audiences of FPT might recall his stirring performance as the lovable Herman in On Golden Pond. In this role, Bulau’s Teddy, the lone American character of the trio, appears to offer an air of authority at first, but his natural ability as an entertainment manager to rake in naive customers through fast talk and quirky, sage witticisms becomes more and more obvious, forcing the audience to sort out which character has been the most truthful as they have now all recounted contradictory details of the same general memories.

In the final scene Berger as Frank returns as the final witness in this case where the audience is judge and jury. Though omitted here for obvious reasons, trust that some surprises and key insights are in store for the audience who should be thirsty by that point for a satisfying explanation.  

By the way, a subtitle I considered for this review was “In Vino Veritas” because the use of- and memories shared about alcohol adds an arguably unsavory but tremendous function in the audience’s goal in filtering out the truth from each character’s recollections.  

As for the additional production team, it is of note that Jeanette Walsh’s costume designs subtly and cleverly depict what each character has come to be at given points in time. Coupled with the these costume choices, the simple set functions quite nicely for such a series of four dense soliloquies. According to the production notes, Rae Surface (technical director) is no stranger to Fort Wayne theater but is fairly new to First Prez, and the light and sound operator-slash-stage manager is Associate Pastor for Children Bill Lane.  

This play demands your attention and patience. Audiences are bound to have varying opinions of what really happened among these three characters, but that’s among the powerful effects of live theater. In two two-scene acts, this performance lasts a little more than two hours, including one ten-minute intermission.  

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Just Wait

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Her:  Phew!  I’m exhausted.  You wouldn’t believe my day.

Him:  Hi there.  Welcome home.

Her:  Did you get the mail?

Him:  ….

Her:  Can you put down your phone and answer me?

Him:  Sorry.  What?

Her:  The mail.

Him:  No.  I was going to–

Her:  I’ll get it.

Him:  …

Her:  What a surprise.  Bills, bills, and more bills.  What did you do today?

Him:  Hm?  Oh.  Not much.

Her:  Did you look for a j– C’mon.  I’m trying to talk with you.  Can you stop playing that game?

Him:  I’m not playing a game.

Her:  Did you find anyone hiring?

Him:  Um…I tried.

Her:  You’re lying.

Him:  …

Her:  You can’t even look at me, can you?  I know you’re lying and you just want me to stop nagging you about getting a job, don’t you?  Fine.  Ya know what, fuck this.

Him:  Did you hear something?

Her:  What?

Him:  I think I heard something.

Her:  Don’t you dare pick up that phone!

Him:  Just a second.

Her:  Goddammit!

Him:  Please don’t!  I just called–!

Her:  Who the fuck are you calling?

Him:  Oww!  What are you doing!  Stop it!

Her:  You love this phone so much, why don’t you fucking shove it up your ass!?

Him:  Wait.  Please!

Her:  We’re fucking done.  You know that?  I just can’t anymore with this bullshit!

Him:  Don’t leave me!

Her:  Don’t you dare try to fucking find me!

Him:  (into phone) Hello?

Voice:  Sir?  Yes, we’re here.  This is the national suicide prevention hotline, and we’ve been listening for several minutes now.  Can you tell me your name?

Take a stand on Kneeling

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1. Colin Kaepernick should have a job playing for an NFL team.

2. As of this writing, he doesn’t, but the debate lies in why no team had employed him.

3.  Kneeling during the nation anthem is among the most peaceful acts of protest a human can complete.

4.  When I watch a televised game at home, at a restaurant, at a bar, or at an.individual’s residence, no one in my observation has ever made a point to stand if the anthem is played.

5.  At every professional game I’ve attended, most of the fans in they assigned seats stand.  Some sing along. Many remove their hats.  Those attendees not in their seats, however, have never stopped in their tracks during the playing/singing of the anthem.  

6.  I’ve never seen a concession stand worker pause during a sale during the anthem.

7.  I’ve never noticed the employees at the entrances halt their ticket scanning during the anthem.

8. I doubt that everyone who works for the radio and television broadcasts stops what they’re are doing either.

The athletes who are on the field are paid members of an entertainment sport.  They have a tremendous platform and have taken the opportunity to use that exposure to bring attention to a severely important issue.  

Two Quick Takes

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You’ll never convince me that writing cannot be therapeutic.  I’ve written before about a natural high that I experience when I finish a story. revise a poem, or get a few thoughts out of my head and onto a screen.  In this stressful world, I believe we all need to have an outlet for our frustrations, whether it’s annihilating a punching bag, exorcising the inner demons in a morning run, or pounding away at a keyboard before sunrise.  So, with this, I trust that I will meet scrutiny and disagreement–and that is always welcome.  These are just some takes about the world around us in mid-October of 2017.  Feel free to stop at any time, but I invite you to share this with anyone you wish.  PS: I’m not selling anything other than perspective.

  1.  If your house is on fire, you don’t stand outside–matches in hand–while watching the flames and ask your family to appreciate you for closing the dishwasher last week.

This is my analogy for our current president consistently asking for credit during an era of division that some believe he himself is masterminding.  Simply put, adults in general should never request to be acknowledged for doing things that generally moral people would do on any given day.

2. Intentionally spreading a false narrative about why some people have begun a silent, peaceful protest has to be among the most egregious and insulting acts of “white-splaining” or “man-splaining” humanly possible*.

Imagine having a notably bad experience at a bakery.  “Bad” isn’t at all the right word, but it might help here.  You walked in with money to spend and you are immediately disrespected to the point where you felt you were invisible and that your existence meant absolutely nothing to the shop owners and other customers.  You are so angry that you announce aloud and online that you are reporting that bakery to the Better Business Bureau and vow to convince as many friends, family members, and strangers that the business in question has horrible business practices and should make massive changes or should be forced to close its doors forever.

Now imagine that the world reads what you said about the poor customer service, the price gouging, the insulting actions of the employees and management and tells you that you’re completely wrong–that you’re being incredibly disrespectful to blueberry muffins and that just isn’t what America is about.

Would you be confused?  Disconnected?  Disrespected?  Voice-less?

*I’m fully aware that I am “white” and “male” and am explaining things to you (the two things I’m admonishing with #1).  Thanks for reading this far, by the way.  At any rate, I don’t have the time, financial backing, or general interest to change my skin tone or anatomy, so I guess you’re stuck with me remaining to look like this.  The terms I used in #1 are two words that I believe are the most applicable in this situation.

I wish you all peace and love.  Let’s all make an effort to be comforting and understanding.  If you’re struggling with this–much like I am if you’ve seen any of my tweets–then I suggest writing your ideas out as a way of unburdening your heartsick soul.