'Faith Healing' an adept mix of drama, fantasy

May 17, 1994|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,Special to The Sun

"Faith Healing," the evening-length performance piece conceived and directed by Jane Comfort that appeared at the Baltimore Museum of Art on Saturday night, is both a screwball adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play "The Glass Menagerie" and an insightful psychological commentary.

At one moment, the audience is laughing at the characters, who spout both Williams' and Ms. Comfort's dialogue, and in the next, the audience is quietly empathetic with them. The strength of this work is that it has its feet in both dance and drama and uses both components effectively. The absurdities of Ms. Comfort's production, which splices the fantasy of film, oddball props and witty set design, make as much sense as the play itself.

The work opens with a pitch by a preacher in a sequined dinner jacket who cajoles "Amens" out of the audience and tells us he has dialed up Jesus on his portable phone. This sequence turns out to be just the kids, Laura and Tom Wingfield, at play -- soon interrupted by Mom calling them to dinner.

This telescoping between the characters' psychological fantasy and reality is the glue that keeps the audience interested and is truly funny. In "Faith Healing," the more genuine moments are those of fantasy.

When young Tom Wingfield, performed with brash enthusiasm by Shawn Gannon, and his mother, played by Ms. Comfort, take each other on in a barrage of verbal sparring, their bodies also take up the fight. As the two tussle across the stage, the physicality of the actions escalates as the dialogue does.

Later, when young Laura Wingfield, played by Nancy Alfaro, daydreams about the perfect man, who else does she conjure up but Superman. With voices of Margot Kidder as Lois Lane and Christopher Reeve as Superman, Ms. Alfaro and David Newman re-enact the flying scene using stools to balance on their midriff as "soar" through the air.

"Faith Healing" never is resolved. All the Wingfields remain firmly planted in their fantasies. Ms. Comfort's play within a play insinuates that only their faith/fantasy can be their salvation.

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