The Return of “Molly Sweeney”
After playing her in England, Simone Kirby brings a title character to the Irish Rep
Late last year, Simone Kirby was in England performing the title role in Molly Sweeney, Brian Friel’s play about a blind woman who faces unexpected consequences after a surgeon restores her vision. When the production closed, she wanted more.
“We spent five weeks in rehearsals discovering these characters, and then it was over before I knew it,” she recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘God, I don’t feel like I’m done yet with this.’”
As it turns out, she wasn’t. Last week, Kirby joined the Irish Repertory Theatre’s hit production of the show, which opened in January with Geraldine Hughes in the title role. Now, Kirby can dig deeper into the dense and lyrical play, which cross-cuts between three monologues as Molly, her husband, and her doctor tell the story of her operation and its aftermath.
Kirby’s especially excited to revisit Molly’s journey, to refine the small shifts in emotion and thought that push her toward a volatile conclusion. “I love where she ends up,” the actress says. “She really goes up and down, and it’s so interesting to play.”
But while she’s learning new things, Kirby brings expertise to the production. The play is challenging because even though all three characters are constantly on stage, they never interact with each other. Instead, as one actor delivers a monologue, the other two sit in their private worlds, in full view of the audience. They can’t quite respond to someone else’s speeches, but they can’t just go limp. Kirby has mastered a technique for filling that downtime with energy.
“Even though I’m not talking, I’m definitely still performing,” she says. “I’m allowing what they’re saying about her to affect me. To let what they’re doing affect me in some small way, without pulling focus, helps me build myself up for whatever comes next.”
It’s important, too, for Molly to stay blind, even when she’s not speaking: “I can be seen all the time, so I have to keep the blindess going,” Kirby says. “That helps to stay in character, because if there’s a moment where you’re not concentrating, you can end up looking at something, which is really obvious to the audience. You don’t want that connection to the audience to go away.”
Mark Blankenship is TDF’s online content editor