Taos is known as a mecca that attracts spiritual seekers and healers with varying degrees of skill, intention, intelligence and candor. Among them, some might say there are charlatans, shysters, plastic shamans, false gurus and “the real deal.” Odenbear Theatre company is examining this reality with its theatrical production of “The Faith Healer,” a drama by Irish playwright Brian Friel. Opening night is Thursday (Oct. 19), 7:30 p.m., at Metta Theatre, 1470 Paseo del Pueblo Norte in El Prado.
Additional performances at Metta Theatre are Friday-Saturday (Oct. 20-21) at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday (Oct. 22) at 4 p.m.; also Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 29 at 4 p.m.
“The Faith Healer” is a play with interconnected monologues shifting through the memory of three characters: the “shaman showman,” Francis Hardy (played by Jeff Spicer); his depressed wife, Grace (Irene Loy), who is grieving a deceased child; and an ebullient cockney stage manager, Teddy (Jim Hatch). Each character is seeking forgiveness from their transgressions as they analyze their lives and struggle with private conflicts.
In addition to acting in this production, Hatch is also Odenbear’s creative director and founder. The name Odenbear comes from Hatch’s middle moniker, “Oden,” and his totem animal, the bear, which he says symbolizes courage, physical strength and leadership. Forty years ago, Hatch started his career as an actor in a college production of “Little Murders” as the paranoid cop. This experience was transformational for him. “I felt the magic of live theater when I was able to rise above the lines of the script after playing the role some 50 times,” he said.
Hatch’s character in “The Faith Healer” is one of the most demanding roles of his career as a professional actor. He navigates a dense 45-minute-plus monologue with a cockney accent and an intimate storytelling technique that breaks the fourth wall to the audience. Additionally, his role is the psychological glue that is necessary for the storyline’s progression.
The play’s director, Bruce Katlin, has taken the unusual step to sequester the actors, rehearsing them individually until the technical rehearsal before opening night. Katlin explains he did this because he didn’t want the actors’ performances to be influenced by each other.
Friel, the playwright, is known for giving actors precisely what they need in their lines to discover their respective characters, Katlin said. “It takes courage to show your guts. You’re not like a painter who finishes a painting and leaves; you’re there with the audience to the end,” he adds.
As the director, he said he wants to show the actors “what they can’t see” and to not “saw the air,” a line that comes from Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet,” which roughly translates for the actors to be completely present with the text. Katlin subscribes to the “chill factor” when directing. He asks his actors “to inspire, give me the chills. I trust my chill factor and know when that happens, what you’re doing is working.”
Spicer, the Dixon actor who plays the Faith Healer, sees his character as “a shyster with redeeming qualities” and live theater as “darn hard to get up onstage and throw your soul out there. There are no retakes. Watching someone who steps onstage, anything can happen.” He hopes “the audience will get involved in the story and understand how easily we can see similar events so differently.”
Taos actor Loy said about the drama, “It is an actor’s play in so many ways. I love that we still do this [theater] as humans.” Loy’s first stage production was in the first grade. “I played Mrs. Claus going to get her first job; my first feminist role was at the age of 6.”
Loy described the process of discovering her character, Grace, saying, “You can’t fake things you’ve never experienced. I could not have played this character before now; this is a role that requires an intimate understanding of loss.” She said she hopes “the audience will listen and relate to how these characters’ versions of the truth are very different and will give themselves over to the experience.”
Plans call for the production to tour through Northern New Mexico, with art imitating life, paralleling the way the play’s characters toured tiny Welsh villages looking for people who needed a miracle. This touring model, with multiple performances in different communities, is “a paradigm shift in the Taos theater scene,” according to veteran Taos actor Karen Thibodeau, director of the Taos Children’s Theatre and a producer for this show. “Touring the show promises wider audience exposure and an opportunity for the ensemble to play the roles they worked hard to bring to life for more than a few performances.”
Katlin said he would like the audience to identify with the characters and ask questions like, “How often do we doubt ourselves and how do we medicate our doubting selves? With the new administration, are we going to put our faith in one person?”
He said he hopes every audience member will “walk out provoked and have empathy for the broken characters in the play because, in the end, we are all striving to survive, to get up and do our best. All artists reflect what is great in the world and what needs improvement – and they are the only salvation we have.”
Additional performances are planned Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m., at the historic Peñasco Theater, 15046 State Road 75 in Peñasco; Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 12, 2 p.m., at The Toolshed, 68 State Road 75 in Dixon; Nov. 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 26 at 2 p.m. at The Steamplant Theatre, 220 West Sackett Ave. in Salida, Colorado; and Dec. 1-2 at 7:30 p.m. at Teatro Paraguas, 3205 Calle Marie in Santa Fe.
Tickets for the Taos performances are $20 per person. For reservations, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Call (575) 758-1104.