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I’ve been eagerly waiting for a New York theater to mount a first-class online production of an indisputably major small-cast play, one that makes creative use of the qualities distinctive to webcasting instead of merely trying to duplicate the familiar effect of a staged production. That’s what St. Paul’s Park Square Theatre did with its radically innovative Zoom-based revival of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and it’s what New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre has now done with what it is billing as “a performance on screen” of “Molly Sweeney.” “Staged” by Charlotte Moore, the company’s artistic director, who directed the Irish Rep’s 2011 revival of Brian Friel’s great 1994 three-person play, this production is as memorable in its own special way as was Ms. Moore’s stage revival. It sets a new standard for what online theater can and should aspire to be.
Inspired by Oliver Sacks’ “To See or Not to See,” “Molly Sweeney” is the story of a middle-aged woman (played here as nine years ago by Geraldine Hughes) who undergoes surgery to regain the sight she lost as a baby. It is naturally suited to socially distanced online performance, consisting as it does of a sequence of interlocking monologues in which the characters directly address the audience but not one another, telling their Chekhov-like tale from their separate points of view….
What ensues is a small-town tragedy of false hope and brutal disappointment, one in which the willingness of men to use women to their own selfish ends is dramatized with quiet but overwhelming lucidity. Molly herself admits as much in a moment of agonizing candor on the night before the surgery: “Why am I going for this operation? None of this is my choosing. Then why is this happening to me? I am being used….And have I anything to gain?—anything?—anything?”…
Seeing Ms. Moore’s original revival of “Molly Sweeney” was one of the high-water marks of my playgoing life—yet this version, performed by a trio of theater artists at the peak of their collective powers, is at least as magnetically involving….
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A 2011 interview with Charlotte Moore, the director of Molly Sweeney: