That’s how citizens of the Irish waterfront were wont to pronounce Faith Healer, Brian Friel’s terrifyingly beautiful masterpiece of the Irish theater. (When veteran West Side Jesuit labor priest Phil Carey told an interviewer in 1981 he’d been nothing but “a sociological tinker” through all the decades of his apostolate, a subsequent request that Fr. Carey clarify the distinction between “tinker” and “thinker” produced only a reiteration: “sociological tinker, that’s all.”)
When Frank Hardy–the itinerant fate-or-faith healer of Friel’s drama—is accosted during a wedding reception by a posse of demandingly drunken young men who have left their profoundly disabled, hope-filled compatriot McGarvey waiting unseen outside in the yard, Frank understands the time of his deliverance unto his own broken fate, or faith, has arrived.
Many thanks to that other unforgettable McGarvey: Bill—a genial rock n’ roller, singer-songwriter and gifted editor from Hoboken by way of Philly–for conducting and publishing this wonderful interview for BustedHalo.com. I could not resist asking Billy if he’d experienced Faith Healer first-hand. Someday. But oh to have experienced as we did the late, great Donal McCann’s incantatory annunciation at Long Wharf’s epic 1994 production: “McGarvey:” the resistant one as ground of Frank’s un-being; he whose immunity to Frank’s manic rhetorical magic sealed not healed Hardy’s fate. “McGarvey.”
A dozen years later—with Faith Healer back on Broadway triumphant nearly three decades after its ill-fated New York premiere—we were likewise entranced by a different incantatory moment, the Celtic itinerary by which Frank Hardy (Ralph Fiennes in this incarnation) ritually frames his opening monologue:
So much had changed in those dozen years, I was more joyously grateful than ever for sharing both experiences of Faith Healer with the same cherished companion (making it even more special; in sixteen years together we’ve attended, maybe, a half-dozen plays). Along the way we’d been joined by a very special child whose needs generated a pilgrim’s litany of its own: Kirkwood, U. City, St. Paul, Glendale, MO, then on back to the multiple sonorous counties of North Central Jersey. That itinerancy was paralleled and even consoled, moreover, by these fixed points facing each other from across the North River; the Irish waterfront locales we’ve sought for over a decade to sustain ever imaginatively in view:
Weehawken, Hell’s Kitchen
Jersey City, Greenwich Village
And all the fateful and faithful spaces and persons contained therein:
Elysian Field, Pier 51 foot of Jane Street; The Horseshoe, 61 Grove Street; Our Lady of Grace, Guardian Angel; Andy and Maisie Hintz, Cockeye Dunn; Fred and Carmine De Sapio; John V. Kenny and Bill-O the Boy from Bohola; King Joe, Taxi Jack and Mr. Big: Philip A. Carey, John M. “Pete” Corridan, S.J., Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan; Edie Doyle and Terry Malloy: all the living and the dead.