Lisa Kristoff, Boothbay Register / Wiscasset Times

The difference between seeing and understanding is a theme threaded throughout the play, “Molly Sweeney,” by Brian Friel.

The play tells the story of a woman, blind since she was 10 months old, who undergoes two surgeries in the hope of restoring all or part of her vision. The tale is told as a series of monologues with each character involved relating his or her experience from their perspective. This play was Heartwood Regional Theater Company's first production in 2004. The cast features two actors reprising their roles from that inaugural year: Dixie Weisman as Sweeney; and John Strong as her husband, Frank Sweeney. Tom Handel makes his first appearance with the company as “Mr. Rice,” the ophthalmologist and surgeon.

One thing is clear: All three actors see and understand the complexity of their characters and deftly draw the audience in.

When we meet Molly she is 41, a massuese at a local health club. She has been married to Frank for two years. She met him at the club and married him one month later. Frank wants Molly to have the opportunity to experience the world through sight; not as she sees it, but as the rest of the world sees it.

Molly starts out as a happy, confident woman who doesn't feel at all deprived due to her lack of vision. She sees, she knows, and she understands her world and her life and she sees her cup as running over.

Weisman is perfection. Audiences will be as enamored with her embodiment of “Molly.” From the moments she tenderly recollects how her father taught her to see flowers through touch and smell, to the recounting of her first meeting with Frank, to her “mad, wild, furious, frenzied dance” the night before her surgery at a party with friends — all of Molly's feelings are palpable through Weisman's skill and fondness for her character. Mannerisms such as playing with her hands and gripping the sides of her chair are well used.

When Weisman takes us swimming as Molly, we can feel her exuberance as she experiences the softness and strength of the water. When she says, “Oh I cannot tell you the joy I got from swimming,” I began to wonder if any sighted person experienced swimming quite the same way as Molly.

Strong playing her enthusiastic, self-educated, thoughtful, spirited husband, conveys Frank's quirkiness and love of adventure. Before he met Molly he raised Iranian goats for cheese-making on an island off the coast of Ireland. The audience will find him an affable fellow, an interesting match for Molly. Her blindness fascinated him when they met. When Frank relates his research (he does a lot of research, on eyes and blindness, and what would be the best activity on a first date for a blind woman) his caring, compulsive side is revealed. Oh, and its dancing ... the first date.

His desire for her to be able to see, to have a new life, for them to have a new life as a couple, seems the best choice. He pushes her to have the surgeries.

Like her husband, initially, Mr. Rice doesn't see Molly has anything to lose by regaining all or some of her sight. And, in his case, he can restore his reputation as a top notch ophthalmologist. Neither of the men thinks about what Molly has to lose until she has lost it.

Mr. Rice is aware of one grim reality from the outset of his meeting with the Sweeneys: in 1,000 years only 20 people had ever successfully had vision surgically restored. He knows that with her thick cataracts and lack of retinal function her “sight” will be limited at best. However, if successful, if Molly were to become number 21, his professional standing would be greatly increased. What a boon it would be.

The stark stage, empty save for three chairs and script stands on separate risers, physically remind us that though we may all share an experience, the way we see and understand it, the way we interpret it differs.

Strong's “Frank” is both amusing and tender, as he takes us through his unusual past endeavors. And, although we suspect Frank wants the surgery more for himself than for Molly, it is hard to dislike him. Strong's mannerisms, use of hands, voice inflections and posture flesh his character out.

Handel successfully takes Mr. Rice from pompous professional to “human” as he experiences the “pre” and “post” Sweeney surgeries and comes to a deeper understanding of his own life, motivations and feelings in the process.

At the story's end, each character's reality is predictably, permanently changed.

Don't miss “Molly Sweeney,” even if you saw it the first time around. It is a completely satisfying theater experience. 

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