Speaking on ‘Faith’

Joan Justice, left, didn’t know much about “Faith Healer,” but she figured any play written by Brian

Joan Justice didn’t know much about “Faith Healer,” but she figured any play written by Brian Friel and staged by the Albany Civic Theater is an opportunity not to be passed over.

“I had never seen a production, but I was familiar with some of the playwright’s work, and I’ve seen the way Albany Civic had handled previous productions that have that Celtic mysticism to them,” said Justice, a Niskayuna native and Schenectady resident.

“All I knew was a little bit of the background from a conversation with the director, but as soon as I read it I loved it. I felt like the character rode home with me after the audition; I was reciting lines and remembering scenes.”

ACT’s production of Friel’s work will begin with a pay-what-you-will performance tonight at 8. It officially opens at 8 p.m. Friday and will run through Nov. 20. Carol King (who reviews theater productions for The Gazette) is directing, and joining Justice in the cast are Patrick White and Gary Maggio.

‘Faith Healer’

WHERE: Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave., Albany

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 20

HOW MUCH: $15-$10

MORE INFO: 462-1297 or www.albanycivictheater.org

The play is a series of monologues delivered by the three characters, beginning and ending with traveling faith healer Frank Hardy, played by White. Justice plays his wife, Grace, and is second in line, while Maggio is next and plays Hardy’s cockney manager, Teddy. White returns to the stage a second time as Hardy to finish the play.

Related story

For Gazette theater writer Matthew G. Moross’ review of this show, click here.

“I did a play similar to this, ‘Bash: The Latter-Day Plays,’ in that it was a series of monologues related to one another by a common theme,” said Justice. “This play is a little bit different because we, our characters, all know each other intimately. So, it really is an ensemble piece even though the monologues are completely separate.”

Friel, often referred to as the “Irish Chekhov,” earned his first Tony Award nomination in 1966 for “Philadelphia, Here I Come!,” and then was nominated again in 1969 for “Lovers.”

“Faith Healer” came out on Broadway in 1979 and initially was not that well-received. After revivals in 1983 and ’94, another production in 2006 with Ralph Fiennes, Cherry Jones and Ian McDiarmid did gain some commercial success, running for eight months, and was also nominated for four Tonys.

King saw the Berkshire Theatre Festival production of “Faith Healer” in 2009, and has wanted to direct a production ever since.

“It spoke directly to me about my spirituality and about the questions I have concerning faith and healing and life,” said King. “It has provoked a great deal of discussion among the actors and the team we have here.”

The play is set in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and while it is entirely fictional, King is convinced the characters were based on real people that Friel had met growing up in and around County Tyrone in Northern Ireland.

“Grace is a Catholic girl from Northern Ireland, Frank is from Southern Ireland and Teddy is a cockney Brit, so while it is fictional, I’m sure Friel heard stories about these kinds of people and must have met people like them,” said King. “It’s the story of a traveling faith healer, it’s got a lot of Celtic mysticism, and it’s a riveting story.”

Audience interpretation

How the story ends is open to debate.

“That’s the fun challenge of this play,” said Justice. “Every character has moments when they’re absolutely telling the truth, and there are other times where they may think they’re being truthful with themselves, or maybe they’re just remembering their own version. The audience gets to interpret who has the most accurate memory.”

Justice is a 1978 graduate of Niskayuna High School who went on to earn a theater degree from SUNY-New Paltz. She last performed in the Classic Theater Guild production of “A Doll’s House,” and before that was in a Schenectady Civic Players production of “An Ideal Husband.”

“My earliest performance was in the first grade singing ‘My Darling Clementine’ in a school variety show,” remembered Justice, a state employee. “I love performing, but after I got my theater degree, the New York City world and touring companies and all that just didn’t appeal to me. I came back to my old stomping grounds. This way I get to work on a play when I want to.”

“Faith Healer” marks the third time that she has portrayed the wife of a character played by White.

“Patrick and I have played husband and wife three times now, and while our marriages aren’t that successful, the performances have been,” said Justice, laughing. “He’s great to work with, and while this is the first time I’ve worked with Gary, I’m really impressed by what he’s doing with Teddy.”

White has had an extremely busy 2011. He began the year in Curtain Call Theatre’s “Bill W. and Dr. Bob,” and then followed that up with ACT’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Confetti Stage’s “The Underpants,” and Capital Repertory Theatre’s “Superior Donuts.”

Maggio, meanwhile, is in his third play of 2011, having done “Proof” at Albany Civic and “The Boys Next Door” at Curtain Call.

Categories: Life and Arts

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