Funny thing, memory. Not the same thing as the truth, of course, but often more compelling, particularly when you get different versions of the same tale.
And memory, in all its glorious variations, is at the center of "Faith Healer," Brian Friel's haunting, unsettling masterpiece of a play, which was revived Thursday at Broadway's Booth Theatre.
Aided by three formidable performers - Ralph Fiennes, Cherry Jones and Ian McDiarmid - Friel, in a series of pungent monologues, tells the tale of Frank Hardy, a charismatic charlatan of the first rank.
The Irish playwright, author of such hits as "Philadelphia, Here I Come!" and "Dancing at Lughnasa," is an expert raconteur, and "Faith Healer" brims with an almost mystical sense of story, complemented by three richly drawn characters.
Hardy is a role Fiennes was born to play. With his matinee-idol looks, Fiennes is the right actor for this vaguely overtheatrical, slightly gone-to-seed Irishman who travels the small towns of Scotland and Wales attempting to cure the afflicted.
Despite his ego, Hardy is filled with doubts - about himself and about his chosen profession, which he calls at the beginning of the evening, "a craft without an apprenticeship, a ministry without responsibility, a vocation without a ministry."
And the man is equally uneasy about the people he was attempting to heal, folks mired in misery and often coming not for a cure but for the reaffirmation that nothing could be done for them. As Hardy puts it, they "came to seal their anguish."
Anguish, almost a despair, permeates Grace, Hardy's wife. Or is she his mistress? It's never quite nailed down, although Grace firmly believes in their matrimonial bond. She is the most loyal of helpmates, suffering through several miscarriages and the stillborn birth of one child, buried in a field in the lonely Scottish countryside.
Jones doesn't attempt an accent - English, Irish or otherwise - but she brings an absolute conviction to the role of a woman totally in love with a man who has snared her in an abusive relationship. It's a poignant, heartbreaking portrait of a sad, desolate woman.
Offering some comic relief, and clearly the audience favorite, is McDiarmid as Teddy, the fussy, fey Cockney manager of Hardy's travels. Wearing a red bow tie and a scarlet smoking jacket, Teddy sits on stage and drinks several bottles of beer while telling stories of his show-biz travails and commenting on Hardy and Grace.
Of all the acts Teddy handled over the years, the most memorable was a whippet named Rob Roy who played the bagpipes brilliantly but wasn't exactly on the top of his game when put out to stud. It's a deliriously bit of comic acting by McDiarmid, best known for his role as Palpatine in the "Star Wars" movies.
In their monologues, the actors all mention one specific event, a fateful night in the small lrish town of Ballybeg (the setting for many of Friel's plays). Hardy has returned to his lrish roots and is attempting to come to terms with what he does by healing one last time.
What happens during that night is only hinted at in the first three monologues of the evening, but then becomes clearer in a fourth, when Fiennes makes another appearance to tie up the plot - well, at least clarify it a bit.
The production, which originated at the Gate Theatre in Dublin earlier this year, is directed by Jonathan Kent in a straightforward manner that's dazzling in its simplicity and yet very theatrical. It's framed by designer Jonathan Fensom's spare, almost barren setting for each actor - playing areas that magically change when a billowing white curtain is pulled across the stage.
"Faith Healer" was seen on Broadway in 1979 with a cast that included James Mason, Clarissa Kaye and Donal Donnelly. It ran only 20 performances. Time has treated the play well. And with the current sterling cast, this most intricate of Friel's plays should have a happier - make that a longer - life in New York.
Frank Hardy, the title character in Brian Friel's unsettling echo chamber of a play, "Faith Healer," has a genuine gift for healing.
It has not, however, made him into a man of faith - he is alcoholic, self-destructive, cruel and profound cynical.
We learn about Hardy from four monologues - two of them delivered by Hardy himself (Ralph Fiennes), at the beginning and the end of the play. In between we hear from his wife, the tellingly named Grace (Cherry Jones), and his manager, Teddy, a high-spirited cockney (Ian McDiarmid.)
They all recount the same incidents, but no two tellings are quite the same. They involve cases where Frank actually heals people, and the bleak night when he is absent as his wife gives birth to a stillborn child in the back of a van.
As Frank, Fiennes exhibits a kind of subdued charm that masks a turbulent soul.
He has a sheepish grin, in part perhaps a result of his being constantly pickled, but more from his sense of being in a weird branch of show business. Even the way he shuffles gracefully around the stage suggests a song-and-dance man rather than a man of the cloth.
Jones displays that fortitude and defiant nobility we associate with long-suffering, self-sacrificing Irish womanhood. The daughter of a judge, she has, in his eyes, degraded herself to follow Frank. (Whether they are actually married is, like much else in the piay, uncertain.)
However deep her own sense of Frank's unworthiness, Jones has a radiance that suggests her love for him strengthens her.
The troubling paradoxes of their relationship are turned absolutely topsy-turvy in Teddy's version of their lives.
McDiarmid (probably best known from the "Star Wars" films) has a beguiling raffishness that suggests Teddy had been in English music hall.
After the intense, self-lacerating monologues of the others, his dazzling storytelling (especially his uproarious account of another client, a whippet who played bagpipes) is like a blaring Dixieland band after a hushed string quartet.
"Faith Healer," which ran briefly on Broadway with James Mason in 1979, has been given a starkly simple production, designed by Jonathan Fensom. Jonathan Kent has directed it with comparable economy, placing strong demands on our imagination.
Because the characters never interact onstage, their conflicting voices echo in our minds long after we leave the theater.
On another front in the ongoing Irish invasion of Broadway, Martin McDonagh's "The Lieutenant of Irishmore," a sardonic portrait of the devastating "logic" of terrorism, has been transferred uptown with all its jolts and affronts, all its black humor as pungent as before.
These are two extraordinary, unforgettable evenings.
Ralph Fiennes, in a seedy, shabby suit, hat held to his chest, shambles to the front of the stage, his eyes gleaming with a kind of crazy fulfillment, a man at the end of a journey he never really understood.
A man who, fueled with booze, kept going with an uncertain yet unwavering ego and the dauntless despair of a Beckett tramp, is walking out to...well, better not say what he's walking out to.
That, after all, is something to be discovered slowly at Brian Friel's "Faith Healer," which opened last night at the Booth Theatre.
When is a play not a play? Perhaps when it is, like this one, four monologues (the hero speaks twice) delivered "Rashomon" style, offering different views of similar events seen through very different viewpoints.
Here then is the deliberate limitation of "Faith Healer" - it avoids any confrontation, except by audience inference, between the actors. The essential thrust and parry of dramatic convention has been abandoned.
Play or not, "Faith Healer" is, to use one of its key words, a "fantastic" theatrical experience, outdistancing the current Broadway pack by a country mile, with three performances to be treasured in memory, and reinforcing Friel's position as one of the three or four finest living English-speaking playwrights.
"Faith Healer" has Fiennes as Frank Hardy, an Irish-born, down-at-heel itinerant faith healer, going around tiny village halls in Wales, Scotland and finally Ireland accompanied by his wife, Grace (Cherry Jones), the lawyer daughter of a judge, and Ian ("Star Wars") McDiarmid as Teddy, his ever accommodating Cockney manager.
Is Frank a healer? When the mood is on him, he's healed with the laying of hands and the exercise of faith. Or is he, as Grace's father maintained, "a mountebank"? Most certainly.
Or perhaps, as Teddy staunchly suggests, he's one of those great natural stars like Laurence Olivier or Gracie Fields.
As the Celtic mists of uncertainty whirl around Friel's odd trio, his mystery of faith and chance, trust and betrayal unfolds, and the characters emerge with uncanny life.
"Faith Healer" has been seen on Broadway before, in 1979 with the great James Mason, Clarissa Kaye (Mason's wife) and Donal Donnelly, but it failed to connect, despite Mason and Donnelly's unquestionable virtuosity.
What somehow disappointed then, now - with this electrically charged new staging by Jonathan Kent - has you on the edge of your seat, waiting, wondering.
Fiennes, seemingly born for the play, is a remarkably intimate actor. He shares confidences rather than tells stories, largely by an unusual technique of subtly combining the bravura splurge of the stage with the micromanagement of the movies.
Dismiss, at your peril, McDiarmid's performance as a glossily deft Cockney music-hall turn, for layered beneath all that fascinating glitter is a depth of human feeling, a range of human sympathy, that transcends Friel's outlines and digs deep into the complexity of his character.
And finally there's Jones, who has made luminosity into an art form, honesty into a means of histrionic communication, and nakedness into a state of dramatic being.
This is an evening of the most wonderful theater. As I was leaving, a woman was asking her companion: "What did it all mean? Could he or couldn't he do miracles?
He could at the performance I saw, lady!
He is certainly in love with himself, isn't he, this middle-aged rake with the time-shined suit and the gaunt, unshaven face. Or is it that he holds himself in even more contempt than he does the rest of the world? Either way, the narcissism is overwhelming. And despite yourself, you can't take your eyes off him, because the power behind the pose is so genuine that it hurts.
Playing the title role in Brian Friel's great play "Faith Healer," which opened last night in a mesmerizing revival at the Booth Theater, Ralph Fiennes paints a portrait of the artist as dreamer and destroyer that feels both as old as folklore and so fresh that it might be painted in wet blood. The self-lacerating vanity that has always been central to Mr. Fiennes's presence as a film actor ("The Constant Gardener," "The English Patient") has rarely been to put to such powerful use.
This shrewd channeling of his glamorously peevish star shine may finally get "Faith Healer," a production from the Gate Theater of Dublin, directed with poetic starkness by Jonathan Kent, the New York audience it deserves. First (and last) seen on Broadway in 1979 for a mere 20 performances with James Mason as its star, "Faith Healer" is a dense and lyrical series of monologues, a form little loved by action-hungry American theatergoers.
Yet anyone who starts listening, with full attention, to the words — and, just as important, the silences — of the three characters who tell their horrible, fantastic and oddly familiar story should be fatally hooked. Intricate and self-contradicting, the narrative has the addictive pull of a detective yarn, a cosmic version in which the clues do and do not add up to a clear solution. And in Mr. Fiennes, Cherry Jones and Ian McDiarmid this production has storytellers who know how to hold a stage unconditionally, even when, in Ms. Jones's case, the performer doesn't entirely match the part.
"Faith Healer" is the unforgiving and exalting tale of Frank Hardy (Mr. Fiennes) and his wife, Grace (Ms. Jones), and manager, Teddy (Mr. McDiarmid). Frank is an itinerant, erratic healer of the sick in small towns throughout the British Isles, who can be reduced in description to boilerplate clichés about impossible artistic geniuses.
An Irishman in self-imposed exile, Frank is an egocentric, hard-drinking, irresistible man who is so suspicious of his talent and so afraid of losing it that he makes everyone around him suffer. You've heard all this before, no doubt, in books, films and plays about artists like Ernest Hemingway, Dylan Thomas and Diane Arbus, brilliant souls crucified on their own talent.
The astonishment of "Faith Healer" lies in how Mr. Friel particularizes this archetype, with the wealth of scenic and eccentric detail to be expected from an author whose other works include "Dancing at Lughnasa," without losing its mythic resonance. The play is a mystery story in both the mundane and spiritual senses. Though each of the narrators tells essentially the same tale in four soliloquies (Frank speaks first and last), their accounts disagree in ways that leave us dizzy.
As is often the case in Mr. Friel's plays, memory is capricious, just as Frank's great and improbable gift is. You'll have no trouble getting the gist of the experiences shared by Frank, Grace and Teddy: of their travels to rural outposts in an increasingly temperamental old van; of the combustible relationship between Frank and Grace; of the night in a Welsh village when a drunken Frank healed all 10 invalids who came to him; of the final, disastrous return to Frank's native Ireland.
But beyond that you don't know what version of reality to accept. Was Grace Frank's wife (as she and Teddy say) or his mistress (as Frank insists)? Was it Frank and Grace or Teddy who demanded that a Fred Astaire recording of "The Way You Look Tonight" be played so incongruously during Frank's healing sessions? Was it Frank's mother or father who died while he was on the road?
Mr. Friel leaves the answers in shadow. But the pain that emerges from these conflicting accounts is as hard and lucid as crystal. You come to realize that the distortions and lies — if that's what they are — are an anesthetic that allows these people to tell their stories, as is often the case with personal myths. But as Mr. Fiennes, Ms. Jones and Mr. McDiarmid demonstrate so powerfully, such evasions can keep anger, closely followed by anguish, at bay only for so long.
I'll admit I was a reluctant conquest of this production and particularly of Mr. Fiennes, to whom looking romantic and tortured has always, it seemed to me, come too easily. I had seen a production of "Faith Healer" in New Haven in 1994, directed by Joe Dowling and starring the incomparable Donal McCann, that remains one of the transcendent experiences of my theatergoing life. Mr. Dowling's production was pitched almost at a whisper, letting the play reveal its darkening depths by stealth.
The interpretation by Mr. Kent, who is best known for ravishingly chic productions of classics ("Hamlet," "Medea," "Phèdre"), is more overtly theatrical, as is Mr. Fiennes's characterization. But as "Faith Healer" insists, there is certainly more than one way to tell a story, and this version's emotional flashiness plays well on Broadway. The physical production (designed by Jonathan Fensom) remains subtle and austere, with extraordinary, crepuscular lighting (by Mark Henderson) that slyly seems to be generated by the characters' changing moods.
If there is a weak link, as impossible as this sounds, it is Ms. Jones, the remarkable American actress who won a Tony Award last year for "Doubt." It's not just that her Anglo-Irish accent is uncertain. She is too palpably strong as a woman who sees her very identity erased by the man she loves. But Ms. Jones's fierce, artful balance between resentment and agony, between disgust and wonder, is beautifully sustained in ways that finally enhance the play's emotional patterns.
Mr. McDiarmid, a stalwart of the London stage, is beyond reproach. With his blatantly dyed orange hair and shabby showman's attire, his Teddy registers at first as a pathetic joke, a seedy old vaudevillian with a repertory of showbiz anecdotes about earlier acts he managed, like the whippet that played the bagpipes. But this jocularity is a shield that slips. And when his narrative strays into descriptions of humiliation and loss, the hurt breaks through the bravado like a fist through papier-mâché.
In like manner Mr. Fiennes plays up the showman in Frank. There are vestiges here of Laurence Olivier as the decaying music hall performer in John Osborne's "Entertainer," conveying the same mixed urges to ingratiate and alienate. But beyond the contempt and charm is an awareness of imponderable darkness within. You sense it when he speaks of foreseeing the play's climactic event and opens his mouth into a maw that becomes a black hole
That's in the opening scene. In the play's conclusion, when Frank walks willingly into that darkness, he glows with solar radiance. This is unquestionably Frank's apotheosis, the consummation he has sought all his life.
Like the place names that are recited as if to rosary beads, gestures echo one another throughout the monologues. There is one in particular, with arms stretched toward the audience, that suggests the laying on of hands, of fingers reaching out to touch, to connect.
The tragedy for the characters in "Faith Healer" is that while connection among them is elusive, the memory of fleeting contact remains and scalds. That the same might be said of the play's effect upon us is, more than anything, what makes "Faith Healer" a major work of art.
It seems straightforward enough: Two men and a woman deliver lengthy monologues. Each of them - small-time faith healer Frank Hardy, his woman Grace, and manager Teddy - is alone onstage for at least half an hour, after which Frank returns for a final soliloquy. The speeches relate their distinctive memories of more or less the same story, their perceptions of hard life on the shabby roads of Wales and Scotland and Ireland.
For some people, such a narrative may feel like an untheatrical slog through somebody else's distant troubles. My mind understands such a reaction to Brian Friel's exquisitely written (even overwritten) 1979 drama "Faith Healer." But my gut could not disagree more.
The revival that opened last night at the Booth Theatre is a peculiar but mesmerizing evening. Jonathan Kent's bravely exposed staging offers a microscopic yet magisterial acting lesson by Ralph Fiennes, Cheny Jones and the dazzling Ian McDiarmid, in his overdue American debut.
Unlike many admirers of Irish playwright Friel, we are more drawn to the tough edges of his early work than to such celebrated Chekhovian embraces as "Dancing at Lughnasa." "Faith Healer," which has not been seen on Broadway since Jose Quintero directed James Mason in it 27 years ago, turns out to be more like Beckett than a Gaelic spin on "Rashomon" and "The Rainmaker."
Kent, Fiennes' theater director of choice, allows us to see faces change brutally, as if in unforgiving close-up. We don't care much about the story, but we are as rapt by the storytelling as if we had curled up with a strange, compelling novel. Fiennes has slowed down and deepened since his brusque Hamlet of 1995.
We first meet this traveling healer, hollowed and stooped, wearing a dark, ill-fitting suit and pacing a shabby meeting hall with towering dark walls. (The expertly grim sets and costumes were designed by Jonathan Fensom.)
The character of Frank gives Fiennes plenty of room for the chilly asceticism he projects so well, but Frank also toys with the seductions of showmanship, in passing twinkles of self-loathing and self-love. Yes, Frank has the power to heal, though not often and not on command. Is he a miracle worker or a con man?
When Grace shares her version of their life together, we must also ask whether he is a liar. Almost everything Frank has told us about his lover, including their legal status, turns out to be willfully delusional, at least according to her. Jones, who won Tony Awards for playing spinsters ("The Heiress") and nuns ("Doubt"), is equally ravishing as a womanly woman - smoking and drinking in a little parlor, mourning the loss of her mysterious, cruel, irresistible man.
Where Fiennes' eyes try to block our entrance, we can almost see the back of Jones' head through hers. Her skin, known for its glow, lets us glimpse something like rot below.
Then comes Teddy, the Cockney manager we have heard so much about from both Frank and Grace. With his massive comb-over and natty smoking jacket, he lives up to the seedy music-hall descriptions that precede him. This is the evening's only showy role, and McDialmid clearly appreciates a character whose favorite word is "fantastic." But the actor takes us beyond the glitzy foolishness to reveal a man who understands artists and events with surprising mercy and clarity.
Easy facts are slippery, including the thoroughly inappropriate use of "The Way You Look Tonight" as the theme music for Frank's pathetic meetings with the sick and the lame. Hard facts are impossible to pin down. Ultimately, Friel unpeels what seems to be the truth about the fateful days when Frank cured 10 people at one haul, when Grace gave birth to their stillborn son, and when Frank finally returned to Ireland to begin a ludicrous homecoming tour.
Kent insists that "Faith Healer," for all its lurking mysticism, is really a metaphor about the ways artists damage themselves and their loved ones. When Frank and then Grace repeat, over and over, the strange, beautiful names of disappearing Welsh and Scottish towns, the sound of the damage is haunting.
Tuesday night, while the rest of the country was tuned into that enduring affliction called American Idol, I was enjoying the perfect antidote.
You wouldn't know it from watching Idol, but the whole point of singing is to tell a distinctive story, to honor a set of words and music with some version of emotional truth. This is also true of acting, which at its best has its own music, its particular, affecting use of tone, rhythm and dynamics.
A case in point - three of them, in fact - are now on display at Broadway's Booth Theatre, where director Jonathan Kent's Dublin-based production of Brian Friel's The Faith Healer (* * * ½ out of four) opened Thursday.
Friel's 1979 play is constructed as a series of monologues, revealing highly individual, sometimes conflicting takes on a set of circumstances. Faith Healer opens and concludes with the testimony of its title character, Frank Hardy, a middle-aged Irishman who has devoted his adult life to "a ministry without responsibility," traveling around offering miracle cures to the desperate and despairing.
In between we hear from Grace, Frank's long-suffering lover and caregiver (and if you believe her rendition of events, his wife), and Teddy, his long-suffering manager. Their devotion - and Frank's apparent view of them as reliable, if often frustrating, servants - is offset by anger and ruefulness, and by Frank's own considerable self-doubt.
Through their contrasting accounts, Friel movingly examines the complex relationship between strength and vulnerability, self-fulfillment and self-sacrifice, and the subjectivity of all human experience.
In the title role, Ralph Fiennes, returning to Broadway for the first time since his Tony Award-winning turn 11 years ago in Hamlet (also directed by Kent, originally for the UK's Almeida Theatre), again delivers the nuanced intensity that makes him one of our most compelling stage and screen actors. His Frank is at once defeated and defiant, a ravaged man who nonetheless retains the fire that drew, and singed, his enablers.
Fellow Tony winner Cherry Jones is, likewise, predictably captivating as Grace, adding to the string of vanity-free bravura performances with which she has spoiled Broadway audiences in recent years.
And Ian McDiarmid is fiercely funny and heart-rending as the flamboyant but haunted Teddy, who for all his protestations of professional detachment is an integral member of Frank and Grace's dysfunctional, interdependent family.
As traced here, that family's strange journey offers proof that true interpretive artists are still being nurtured in commercial art. Some commercial art, at least.
As the title character played by Ralph Fiennes in Brian Friel's "Faith Healer" intones the names of dying Welsh villages in the opening monologue, he speaks of "the mesmerism, the sedation of the incantation." Those place names become a hypnotic refrain for all three characters in this haunting drama about art and memory, life and death. In Jonathan Kent's illuminating production, the dark sorcery of language, of recitation and interpretation, powers a challenging play that stubbornly withholds its revelations as it explores the infinite nuances of truth and fabrication.
Friel's play premiered on Broadway in 1979 in a poorly received production starring James Mason that ran a mere 20 performances. Structured as four consecutive monologues from three characters who at no time share the stage, this "Rashomon"-style feat of complex storytelling examines overlapping events from conflicting perspectives. While that approach was audacious for its time, nontraditional narrative has since become more common in mainstream theater. But "Faith Healer" still requires its audience to work -- and is all the more enthralling for it.
Kent is working here in a richly theatrical idiom that enhances the drama's intricate layers. His embrace of magic and artifice is apparent in the eerie image that sweeps the stage between monologues, of a single gnarled tree in a lonely country landscape, underscored by wind and whispering voices and projected across a moving white curtain.
In a production designed with meticulous precision, the three characters appear to be conjured by lighting illusionist Mark Henderson out of brooding darkness, hovering between flesh and spirit.
And Kent artfully harnesses the three distinct acting styles of the excellent cast to mirror Friel's multiple takes on the same events. In addition to the treacherous waters of memory, the playwright reflects with searching introspection on the creative process, on the making of art as a transformative release but also as a potential snare plagued by uncertainties of chance, weight and trustworthiness.
"A craft without an apprenticeship, a ministry without responsibility, a vocation without a ministry," is how the title character describes his profession.
Self-doubt is disturbingly evident in Frank Hardy (Fiennes), the eponymous Irishman who travels the back roads of Wales and Scotland, hawking his all-purpose miracles to a dwindling public. "Am I endowed with a unique and awesome gift?" Frank asks. "Am I a con man?" Those questions are bounced back and forth by the faith healer; his long-suffering wife (or is she merely his lover?), Grace (Cherry Jones); and his loquacious Cockney manager, Teddy (Ian McDiarmid).
The names of the towns are the same for each of the three characters, but their accounts of the events that took place in them vary wildly. The task of wading through the murky depths of memory to separate lies from truth fuels the play's unsettling suspense. The deepest scars clearly have been left by Grace's stillborn child, buried by the side of a road in northernmost Scotland, and by the trio's return to Ireland years later to Friel's mythical Donegal village of Ballybeg, where the doomed Frank's gifts were tested by the locals in a pub.
Fiennes is given the tough job of re-creating a role forever associated with Donal McCann's reportedly unforgettable interpretation. In the opening monologue, in particular, the actor's work feels somewhat underpowered. He looks gaunt and unshaven in a shabby suit, and while his intelligence and quiet charisma are never in doubt, the character remains distant, dreamily absent at times and knowingly enigmatic at others. Fiennes' cool approach perhaps leaves us too much time to consider his impressive technique. There's nothing superfluous in the performance: Every gesture, expression, pause and inflection is carefully controlled.
It's in the surprising ripple effect that continues later, through Grace and Teddy's testimonies and in his own commanding final monologue, that Fiennes' characterization assumes the vivid shape of a man whose cruelty and selfishness are matched by his personal torment.
While Jones has not mastered the accent of an Irishwoman -- even one long absent from her home -- her work is powerful and affecting. The daughter of a sententious judge, Grace is a soul unable to find rest; she both loves and despises Frank but is passionately loyal to him. "God, he was such a twisted man," she says. "With such a talent for hurting."
In her painful endurance of the wounds of exclusion, of Frank's hubris and self-absorption, the character conveys in almost shockingly naked terms a suggestion of Friel's own contemplation of the difficulty of living with an artist.
Shifting gears once again from Fiennes' microscopically detailed intensity and Jones' raw emotionalism, McDiarmid gives the production's most astonishing perf, inhabiting colorful raconteur Teddy with more than a hint of Archie Rice. Looking elegantly tatty in his dusty red velvet tux, the winking vaudevillian showman cheerfully gulps beer after beer while reminiscing about his entrepreneurial past, proudly celebrating the talents of Miss Mulato and her Pigeons or Rob Roy, the bagpipe-playing whippet. Like his endorsement of those dubious novelty acts, Teddy seems unconcerned whether Frank's gift is chicanery or genius.
McDiarmid creates a tragicomic figure whose convivially conversational manner makes the cracks in his composure cut deeper. Failing to abide by his own rule of "strictly business," Teddy's love of Frank and Grace, his unrewarded devotion, loss and sorrow are searingly, heartbreakingly rendered.
Ultimately, however, despite the contrasting skills of these fine actors, it's the melancholy beauty of Friel's writing and the measured, cumulative lucidity of Kent's probing production that give this beguiling play its lingering resonance. As Fiennes steps slowly downstage in the final moments, there's a devastating sense of both a character and a playwright offering themselves up for judgment.