Idol Chatter

It’s not often I get to (a) see a movie star up close and (b) see a Broadway show. But on my first –and hopefully not last–whirlwind trip to New York, I was able to do both in one afternoon. I sat in my seat mesmerized as Ralph Fiennes (“The English Patient,” “Schindler’s List”), wearing a baggy suit with an ugly green tie and matching socks, made me forget his big-screen persona, as he alternately shuffled and then paced back and forth on a stark, black stage. With a twinkle in his eyes but despair in his voice, Fiennes transported me back to Depression-era Wales in search of the miraculous in the haunting Tony-nominated tragedy “The Faith Healer.”

The play, on the surface, is quite simple. It is actually a series of long, long, long monologues that tell the tale of a two-bit hustler, Frank Hardy (played by Fiennes) and the two people closest to him–his lover, Grace, and his “business manager,” Teddy. The motley trio travels the impoverished back roads of Wales advertising Frank’s supernatural ability to heal the lame and infirmed, for a small price, of course. The story of the same heartbreaking series of events surrounding the misguided use of Frank’s spiritual gift is told from the perspective of all three characters and reveals glimpses of truth in the midst of a pack of lies. The challenge for the audience is to figure out which is which.

Does Frank truly have the ability to heal others? Well, sometimes, in spite of his whiskey-induced stupor, yes, he does. Do the people who come to him actually want to be healed? In Frank’s opinion, no, they don’t. Is God involved in any of these healings–or in some cases, the lack of healings–or is it just mind over matter?

“The Faith Healer” neither mocks the possibility that faith in a higher power heals nor fully embraces the notion of the miraculous. Instead, it is a tortured look at what could happen to those who does not question what they put their faith in. Frank heals others not out of a sense of the divine, but rather to escape the nagging spiritual questions inside his heart. Frank only feels escape from these questions when he is healing someone, yet refuses to acknowledge the possibility of a God who gave him this gift–if it is a gift. Grace and Teddy, on the other hand, place too much faith in the frail and unhappy Frank and suffer greatly because of this. What is clear by the final, tragic scene is that in this story, faith alone cannot save anyone.

I certainly have been taught since I was a teenager to “walk by faith and not by sight,” as the Bible teaches, but this particular afternoon as I left the theater and walked down a crowded Schubert Alley, I was left reflecting on my own spiritual complacency. I put my faith in other people, other things–as well as my personal beliefs–but sometimes without a lot of thought. It only took a couple of hours in a darkened theater to remind me that it is when we ask questions and struggle with doubts, that we find what is truly worthy of our faith.

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