The Books: “Faith Healer” (Brian Friel)

Next in my Daily Book Excerpt

So I’m done with Christopher Durang, for now … the next playwright on the script shelf is the Irish playwright Brian Friel.


Faith Healer, first done here in New York in 1979, is considered one of his most important plays. The plot (and structure) of the play are simple. It tells the story of Frank Hardy, the faith healer, and his wife Grace. The play is told through a series of long monologues – two spoken by Frank, one spoken by Grace, and one spoken by Teddy, Frank’s manager. Frank and Grace travel around England, Scotland, and Wales in a caravan, offering to heal the sick. There’s a couple of tragedies at the heart of this story – one being the death of Frank and Grace’s baby.

I’ll post an excerpt from Grace’s monologue. All the monologues are about 10 to 15 pages long (memorizing them must be a beeyotch!), so I’ll just post a bit of it. The ending of this section of the monologue is just a killer. So well done. It’s why he’s a successful playwright. He keeps it simple, he doesn’t bash you over the head with emotion, but dammit: he gets the job done.

EXCERPT FROM Faith Healer by Brian Friel:

GRACE. Abergorlech, Abergynolwyn, Llandefeilog, Llanerchymedd, Aberhosan, Aberporth …

It’s winter, it’s night, it’s raining, the Welsh roads are narrow, we’re on our way to a performance. He always called it a performance, teasing the word with that mocking voice of his — “Where do I perform tonight?” “Do you expect a performance in a place like this?” — as if it were a game he might take part in only if he felt like it, maybe because that was the only way he could talk about it. Anyhow Teddy’s driving as usual, and I’m in the passenger seat, and he’s immediately behind us, the Fantastic Francis Hardy, Faith Healer, with his back to us and the whiskey bottle between his legs, and he’s squatting on the floor of the van — no, not squatting — crouched, wound up, concentrated, and happy — no, not happy, certainly not happy, I don’t think he ever knew what happiness was — but always before a performance he’d be … in complete mastery — yes, that’s close to it — in such complete mastery that everything is harmonized for him, in such mastery that anything is possible. And when you speak to him he turns his head and looks beyond you with those damn benign eyes of his, looking past you out of his completion, out of that private power, out of that certainty that was accessible only to him. God, how I resented that privacy! And he’s reciting the names of all those dying Welsh villages — Aberarder, Aberayron, Llangranog, Llangurig — releasing them from his mouth in that special voice he used only then, as if he were blessing them or consecrating himself. And then, for him, I didn’t exist. Many, many, many times I didn’t exist for him. But before a performance this exclusion — no, it wasn’t an exclusion, it was an erasion — this erasion was absolute: he obliterated me. Me who tended him, humoured him, nursed him, sustained him — who debauched myself for him. Yes. That’s the most persistent memory. Yes. And when I remember him like that in the back of the van, God how I hate him again —

Kinlochbervie, Inverbervie,
Inverdruie, Invergordon,
Badachroo, Kinlochewe,
Ballantrae, Inverkeithing,
Cawdor, Kirkconnel,
Plaidy, Kirkinner …

(quietly, almost dreamily) Kinlochbervie’s where the baby’s buried, two miles south of the village, in a field of the lefthand side of the road as you go north. Funny, isn’t it, but I’ve never met anybody who’s been to Kinlochbervie, not even Scottish people. But it is a very small village and very remote, right away up in the north of Sutherland, about as far north as you can go in Scotland. And the people there told me that in good weather it is very beautiful and that you can see right across the sea to the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. We just happened to be there and we were never back there again and the week that we were there it rained all the time, not really rained but a heavy wet mist so that you could scarcely see across the road. But I’m sure it is a beautiful place in good weather. Anyhow, that’s where the baby’s buried, in Kinlochbervie, in Sutherland, in the north of Scotland. Frank made a wooden cross to mark the grave and painted it white and wrote across it Infant Child of Francis and Grace Hardy — no name, of course, because it was still-born — just Infant Child. And I’m sure that cross is gone by now because it was a fragile thing and there were cows in the field and it wasn’t a real cemetery anyway. And I had the baby in the back of the van and there was no nurse or doctor so no one knew anything about it except Frank and Teddy and me. And there was no clergyman at the graveside — Frank just said a few prayers that he made up. So there is no record of any kind. And he never talked about it afterwards; never once mentioned it again; and because he didn’t, neither did I. So that was it. Over and done with. A finished thing. Yes. But I think it’s a nice name, Kinlochbervie — a complete sound — a name you wouldn’t forget easily.

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7 Responses to The Books: “Faith Healer” (Brian Friel)

  1. dad says:

    Dearest: I love Friel–due to your prompt, I’ll read the whole thing, never having seen Faith Healer. Friel is one of those dramatists who has a certain dramatic knack: the dance in Lughnasa, the Irish speakers in Translations, which is very effective on stage, but is not that apparent when reading. Happy 4th. love, dad

  2. red says:

    Yeah, dad, I just love Translations. It kills me – the “sweet smell” of the potatoes, the ominous sign of things to come … and the scenes of translations between groups of people, the loss of the Irish language – I love how he does it.

  3. Stevie says:

    I worked on a one-act play of Friel’s called “Losers” (one part of “Lovers”; the other part was “Winners”). It was in the Seventies for a local community theater contest. I was 15. My dad had to drive me to rehearsals. What I loved about the play was it was about adults, a philosophical man courting a mature woman whose mother upstairs bangs the cane on the floor whenever there’s a lapse in the conversation (presumably for necking). I was a one-man production crew: designed and built the set, wrote and recorded the music (on a harpsichord), operated the lights, prompted at rehearsals, had an absolute blast. We went on to win the local contest, leading to such headlines as “Losers Winner” in the local paper. I don’t think I understood the play very well. What I remember most is that during the “necking” rehearsals, the actor had to excuse himself frequently and run to the bathroom. For what, I have no idea.

    Oh, and the night of the contest fell on the day when Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon.

    So I’ll always hold an affectionate torch for Brian Friel.

  4. gillon waiters says:

    You say here that Frank made a cross and painted it white. surely you meant Teddy?

    • Jesse says:

      The whole point is that she’s says it was Frank because that’s what she wants to believe when remembering it. Even though she knows full well it was Teddy. That’s where the lines are blurred and we can’t true what the collective truth is anymore. All three of them remember it differently.

  5. Linda says:

    Grace wants to remember frank at the death if the baby but the truth is to much to painful. Frank left her while she was having the baby and didn’t let her grieve , never mentioned it again. Grace wants Frank to have been there she wants it so bad she believes he was there

  6. Addy says:

    gillon waiters- Frank makes the cross – not Teddy. ;)

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