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Oak Parkers Star in Faith Healer, A Thrice-Told Tale

There’s more than one way to tell a story in Oak Park Festival Theatre’s production of Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer”

has moved indoors for a spring production of  Faith Healer, a Rashomon-like tale told in four monologues by three actors.

Previews are March 10 to 12 and performances run from March 13 to April 16 in the studio space at The Madison Street Theatre in Oak Park.

By preeminent Irish playwright Brian Friel, Faith Healer tells the contradictory truths of faith healer Frank Hardy; Grace, his wife (or mistress, depending on who’s telling the story); and Frank’s Cockney manager and booker, Teddy.

Back in Ireland after 20 years, each one discusses the decades they spent barnstorming through the small towns of Scotland and Wales, and one pivotal night. 

“What really happened? If you believe one, do you have to discount the others? The audience is a witness to this and chooses its own truth,” said director Belinda Bremner.

Bremner, an Oak Park resident and co-chair of Festival Theatre’s board, also directed its 2008 production of Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa and this year’s Jeff- recommended Of Mice and Men.

“‘Faith Healer’ is an extraordinary piece; many say it’s Friel’s masterpiece. It is smart and engaging and really speaks to the human condition, with humor, love, terror and doubt. It appeals to the head, the soul and the heart at the same time,” said Bremner.

Oak Parker Kevin Theis plays Frank Hardy, who was born in Northern Ireland but spent much of his life in self-imposed exile.

“Frank really is a faith healer, but be can’t turn it on and off and nine times out of 10 it doesn’t work. He’s plagued by that and drinks a lot to quiet it. He is a very tortured soul. The tendency is to dismiss what he says, but that would be a mistake, ” said Theis.

Theis has been associated with Festival Theatre since 1990. He will direct Shakespeare’s Henry V  this summer, which will have its run in the park after The History of Henry IV, adapted from Henry IV Parts I and II.

Jack Hickey, artistic director, said he hopes Festival Theatre will continue to have spring and fall indoor performances next year at The Madison Street Theatre, former home of Oak Park’s Village Players.

Hickey plays Teddy.

"Teddy is the eternal optimist; he hopes the next town will bring the big break. He had managed other acts in London, like the dog that plays bagpipes, but he feels connected to something spiritual with Frank,” said Hickey, adding that Teddy’s monologue brings the most humor to the play.

Mary Michell rounds out the cast as Grace, an upper-class Protestant who left her life of privilege for Hardy and stuck with him, despite of how badly he treated her.

“All these characters are trying to put their lives into perspective. Grace is trying to figure out why she stayed with [Frank] and what happened to her life,” said Michell.

There will be moderated discussions of the play after three Sunday performances. Leaders are Al Gini, professor of business ethics at Loyola University Chicago and resident philosopher on WBEZ (March 20); the Rev. Julie Hartley of (March 27) and Ellen O’Brien, associate professor of English and women’s and gender studies at Roosevelt University (April 10).

Gini will focus on the play’s central concerns--the power of religion, faith and belief-- and “examining what people believe is true and how their lives are led by what they believe to be true,” he said.

O’Brien said she will offer a literary and historical take on the play.

Hartley will discuss “the perils and promise of faith healing” and the Christian and Jewish traditions of faith healers, she said.

“Frank seems to have a gift but he is not a person of faith. Where does the gift come from? Can the healer heal himself? I would say the answer is no; it will be good to have a discussion,” said Hartley.

On Thursday, March 17, Festival Theatre will host an Irish Ceilidhe. Beth Ann O’Reilly Amandes and Paul Amandes will perform Irish music starting at 7 p.m. The music, along with snacks and a cash bar, will also follow the 8 p.m. play performance.

For ticket and schedule information see the Oak Park Festival Theatre website or call the box office at 708-445-4440.

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