Germantown couple part of theatrical streaming of new play

by Rita Charleston
Posted 2/19/21

Molly Sweeney leads a full and productive life as a woman who is blind. But her husband, Frank, can never leave well enough alone.

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Germantown couple part of theatrical streaming of new play

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Molly Sweeney leads a full and productive life as a woman who is blind. But her husband, Frank, can never leave well enough alone. His insistence that she undergo a risky surgery to restore her sight has powerful and unintended consequences. 

“Molly Sweeney” is a New York Drama Critics Award-winning play by Irish playwright Brian Friel. Inspired by an essay titled “To See and Not See,” Friel tells his tale from the shifting perspective of Molly, Frank, and the surgeon who values his skills above his patients.

Filmed at St. Stephens Theater in Center City, the Lantern Theater's production of “Molly Sweeney” is being streamed now through Feb. 28. Aside from the onstage cast, in readying the play those behind the scenes faced a monumental and highly unusual task. Case in point, Nick and Janet Embree of Germantown.

Nick is the scenic designer for the production, and his wife, Janet, is the lighting designer. The couple, who asked that their ages not be mentioned, met when both were graduate students at Temple University. They married 15 years ago and moved into a small apartment in Mt. Airy. “When we decided we would like more room and started looking for a house, we knew we couldn't afford Mt. Airy, so a friend suggested we look into Germantown,” Janet recalled.

“And that's when we found it, a big, beautiful, 200-year-old house that has a lot of character that we both fell in love with. And we consider ourselves very lucky to have found it. Our neighborhood is very friendly. There are lots of artistic people who live in the area, and I think it's a great place to live if you are an artist or anyone, for that matter. I think you also get more for your money in Germantown. Plus, we're close to shopping and the train station, which makes it very convenient to get in and out of the city and still have a place to park right outside our house.”

Convenience was — and still is — one of the great things about living in Germantown, especially for this couple who spend a lot of time there earning a living. Nick has designed sets for over 150  productions in Philadelphia and the region, including more than 30 at the Lantern. “But this is the first design I've ever done for a filmed stage production, which is quite different from anything else I've ever done.

“To make it work takes a sort of overall adjustment. Normally I design scenery knowing the audience will be looking around and providing the visual storytelling for the production. So for this show I had to make a bunch of little models to show where I wanted cameras to go. That's what people do in film work, but I haven't done much of that in my career, so this was an all-new experience.”

This was Janet's first steaming experience also. A freelance designer and production manager, she said, “It's a very different process, and what makes it so challenging is not having everyone in the same room at the same time. We only had one actor in a room, putting other actors in scenes post-production as if they were all together, but they never were. For the past 20 years my main job has been as a production manager at Lantern and many other places, but with this current pandemic everything seems to have pretty much dried up, so Nick and I have tried to do other jobs.”

For Janet, it was stepping up her ability to do professional upholstery for the stage and screen. One of her most recent projects was seen in the 2018 Grammy Awards. As for Nick, he's always been in education. He is an associate professor at the University of the Arts on the faculty in the Theater Design and Technology program, which he initiated in 2004.

And today, thanks to The Lantern and “Molly Sweeney,” just being back with other artists doing what they love to do has been the best thing that could have happened to them during the pandemic. “Collaborating with others has been a dream come true,” Janet said, “but the best secret to our success is that we are friends. That helps us through any situation that might come along.”

For information on how you can watch “Molly Sweeney”: 215-829-0395 or lanterntheater.org.

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