In Search of Truth (Whatever That May Be) with Craig Hall, Director of Faith Healer
Interview by Bailey Green
Acclaimed director Craig Hall called me from Alberta to talk about his experience directing Faith Healer at the Shaw Festival this season. Written by Irish playwright Brian Friel, Faith Healer is the story of a man, his love, his manager and his gift (to skim the surface). The text is elusive, complex and haunting. I spoke with Craig about direct address, rehearsal process and personal truth.
“Friel sent us a letter at the very beginning. It was waiting for me in my mailbox: written with an old manual typewriter with little cross outs in pen. You could only get in touch with him by fax. I fax-ed him saying I had a lot of questions. He faxed me back and said I don’t have any answers,” Craig laughs as we begin our conversation.
Craig got involved with the Shaw Festival a few summers ago. He was festival attendee for a few years before the offer to direct came at the right time as he was considering transitioning out a job. It was a great opportunity to take the summer to take stock and “really see where my career was going”. I asked Craig how similar or different Faith Healer was to his prior body of work, “Oddly it was kind of right of my alley. For some reason I have done a lot of solo shows with a lot of direct address”. He had worked on Greg MacArthur pieces which involve hindsight and memory as dramatic devices. “Stylistically, there’s a kinship. Direct address storytelling with this show is where the events have transpired but they are still living in the immediacy of it” he adds, “But once we got into the density of it none of us were prepared for how complex the piece ended up being.”
The structure of the show is deceptively simple: four sections, three characters, direct address and pure storytelling. It was the simplicity of one actor and an audience that drew Craig in to the piece. That and the complicated overlapping narrative structure. And though Craig had recently taken over a theatre company in Calgary, the fantastic writing helped make his decision.
With such an intense script, I inquired about the rehearsal process.
“It was pretty straightforward. And yet there’s no interactions between the actors [on stage] yet they have lived twenty years together. I had a lot of ideas in my mind about a complex rehearsal process but the actual structure of the rehearsal process didn’t work with that. We went through [the script] and scheduled in such a way that we touched on them [Jim Mezon, Corrine Koslo and Peter Krantz] all individually and kept them at the same pace. We let them have their own individual process but we wanted them to be moving through the piece at a similar speed.
Over the course of a month and a half, I would bring them every seven days into the room together to run through the whole piece so they could hear each other’s stories. You never wanted them to forget that their truth wasn’t the truth of the others. They embraced it and railed against it based on what their experience was. They wanted to love each other and be together [as a cast] but still it [the show] was so individual.
We went in there thinking it was a simple thing and were floored by how complex it really was. It was so complete unto itself. Every time we tried to add something it felt wrong. We became very happy with that fact.”
There are many challenges in a monologue play and we discussed the fine line between directorial and playwright decisions for staging. The play often had been produced on a mostly bare stage with perhaps the addition of a curtain at the back. Craig wanted to “put the story in a place that was charged with their history. Some people liked it, some didn’t. Jim [Mezon] said I get it, it’s a bare bones version of where they spent their lives while the other two [Corrine and Peter] were more literal. [The set] is a place for remembering.” He praised lighting designer Bonnie Beecher’s talents. She crafted a beautiful sequence at the top of the play of sunlight traveling from morning to night, spilling in the windows and marking the passage of time. She drew inspiration from Edward Hopper’s painting.
In his director notes, Craig spoke about truth. I asked if him and the cast had a found a solid truth beneath the tangled stories of this play or if they found everyone’s truth to be valid for themselves. He spoke to the latter:
“I think that’s where we landed. We rigorously went down this road. There were times when we thought this guy [Frank] was full of shit. These characters have their own individual truth. That and there is no way to play a lie like that on stage. If any one of these characters is consciously lying what does that mean? It would undercut the power of what they were talking about. There were so many things we didn’t reconcile ourselves with but let it go. Each of the characters is telling the truth as they see it. I think people are doing that constantly. There are people who know they are pulling the wool over someone else’s eyes. And some people keep telling the same lie until it becomes a sort of truth. If we play him [Frank] as a liar, the audience writes him off, but if you play it truthfully you leave it up to the audience.”
And how was it working at the Shaw Festival? “It was an exciting experience to me to work with this amazing talent and have the time and resources that we don’t normally have in the theatre world.”
Faith Healer puts the audience in limbo as we experience three characters’ individual re-experiencing of the traumatic and marvelous experiences from their shared past. And as their stories collide and contrast we debate and wonder what is true and false. But in life, as in the theatre, “we recreate history to benefit ourselves. If you can’t deal with something you paint it a different way in your mind so it is more palatable.”
by Brian Friel
Directed by Craig Hall
Where: The Shaw Festival, Royal George Theatre
When: June 13th-October 6th
For more information and tickets, check out the Shaw Festival Website.