In April 2000, on the same stage, director Friel presented a successful reading of “The Riot Act,” poet Tom Paulin’s modern adaptation of Sophocles’ “Antigone.”
The 39-year-old director has done her father’s work in the past, notably a production of “Dancing at Lughnasa” at the State University of New York at Binghamton and Thetr Powsecny, Warsaw, Poland, with a translator bridging the linguistic gap between the director and her actors. Also, she directed his adaptation of Charles Macklin’s Restoration comedy, “The True Born Irishman,” at Michael Colgan’s Gate Theatre, Dublin, and several of his short stories for BBC radio.
Friel considers “Faith Healer” ideal for the 92nd Street Y stage. “It’s really a series of stories,” she said on a phone call from Dublin before she flew over to direct the reading, the three-actor cast of which features Philip Bosco, Blair Brown and Jim Dale.
In 2000, when Friel did her staged reading of “The Riot Act,” she was still an associate director of Ireland’s National Theatre, more familiarly known as the Abbey. After her first experience at the 92nd Street Y, she said: “I was struck by the parallels between the two theaters. Like the Abbey, the Y is a writer’s theater that invests enormous faith in the written word. So when David Yezzi (director of the 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center) asked me to direct ‘Faith Healer,’ I thought it a kind of inspired project.”
Unsurprisingly, Judy Friel is prepared for the unavoidable questions about her attitude toward her father’s plays. Her official answer is, when she’s asked whether being Brian Friel’s daughter gives her special insight into his work: “I’m afraid not. I relate to his work the way I relate to the work of any great playwright. My inspiration comes from the play.”
Unofficially, however, she said, “Sometimes I pick his brain.”