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‘Faith Healer’ at the Guthrie: An exhausting, exhilarating show

After Sally Wingert completed her stunning monologue Saturday evening in Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer” ­ and before the applause rang out at the black-out ­ a woman behind me whispered, “She is such a great actress.”

That’s never been in doubt, but it can be easy to forget amid the riches of the Twin Cities theater community, so it’s good to have a production like this — now running at the Guthrie Theater’s McGuire Proscenium ­ — as a reminder. The rest of the cast aren’t slouches either, with the always-talented Raye Birk and Guthrie Artistic Director Joe Dowling adding their own impressive skills to the mix.

Friel’s play, a string of monologues presented by the three characters,  ­ explores the life of a down-on-his-luck faith healer (Dowling), his manager (Birk) and his mistress or wife (Wingert). Each monologue traces their times together traveling the back roads of Wales and Scotland, before a final traumatic trip to Ireland. “Rashomon”-like, each character has a different take on their shared lives ­ and what exactly happened in the end. In the end, those details may not be as important as the sad, desperate lives led by each of the three.

Making his acting debut at the Guthrie, Dowling fully inhabits Frank, from the ill-fitting suit inward. The same can be said of Birk and his blustery Teddy. It’s Wingert who anchors the whole piece. Inhabiting a small square of the stage, Wingert’s Grace is absolutely trapped by her past — recounting the details as if they were the only real connection she still has with the outside world.

As director, Dowling keeps the action austere, letting the talents of the performers carry most of the weight. “Faith Healer” is an exhausting show, but the talented trio makes it exhilarating all the same.

“Faith Healer” runs through Dec. 6 at the McGuire Proscenium Stage, the Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis. Tickets are $24 to $60. For information, call 612-377-2224 or visit online.

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