Newton Nomadic theater troupe brings ‘Molly Sweeney’ to the Vineyard

Billy Meleady, left, Noni Lewis, and Stephen Cooper. —Photo Courtesy Jerry Reilly

Updated 8:30 am, March 11: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported the showtime. The play begins at 5:30 pm.

A traveling theater troupe is coming to the Island. This Sunday at the Vineyard Haven library, Newton Nomadic, a group based in the Boston area, will present their current production to a Vineyard audience for the first time. The play is “Molly Sweeney,” by famed Irish playwright Brian Friel. The cast includes the Island’s Billy Meleady, who joined the troupe two years ago. Mr. Meleady will also be directing the three-person play.

Jerry Reilly, the co-founder of Newton Nomadic, says the play is “the story of a blind woman who marries a sighted man. He becomes obsessed with trying to restore her sight.” The third character, played by Mr. Meleady, is the doctor, whose motives for helping the woman are questionable. The play was inspired by an essay by best-selling author and neurologist Oliver Sacks.

The story is told through a series of monologues. “It’s all about the richness of [Friel’s] language,” Mr. Meleady says. “It borders on storytelling. He writes dense text. It’s the beauty of the language that keeps you there.”

The spareness of the play makes it a perfect fit for Newton Nomadic’s unique approach to theater. The group moves around from venue to venue, mostly in the Newton area, but also in and around Boston.

“We do very simply staged plays,” Mr. Reilly says. “We have to pick carefully. We typically have a small cast. We move them around from place to place to place. Each play has a five-week run in six or seven locations.” The troupe has performed in unlikely locations, including a barn, a living room, and a rug store.

Mr. Meleady suggested the play “Molly Sweeney” for the ease of staging. “It’s very stripped down,” he says. “There’s not a prop in sight.”

“I like their mission,” he says of Newton Nomadic. “It’s very intimate, very bare-bones theater.”

Newton Nomadic launched with another Brian Friel play, “Faith Healer,” which traveled around the Boston area in 2014. A few weeks before the opening of that inaugural show, one of the actors, Stephen Cooper, fell off a catwalk while performing in another play. Luckily, at the last minute, Newton Nomadic’s other co-founder, Linda Goetz, was able to recruit her old friend Billy Meleady, who had done the play before.

Mr. Meleady is a theater veteran who has been acting in Boston and elsewhere for 25 years. He received both Norton and IRNE awards for his work with the Sugan Theater Co., an outfit that he has been involved with for over a decade. He has also worked regularly with the New Repertory Theater and Boston Playwrights Theater. He won the 2014 Best Actor award at Boston’s 48-film festival. Last year, the actor appeared in New York City’s Irish Repertory Theater’s East Coast premiere of “The Belle of Belfast.”

Mr. Meleady made his screen debut in 2015’s “Black Mass,” playing IRA leader Joe Cahill. On the Vineyard, the actor, who is married to author Nicole Galland, has appeared in work at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, Shakespeare productions at the Tisbury Amphitheater, and in the locally filmed web sitcom “All Downhill from Here.”

Since filling in for Newton Nomadic’s Stephen Cooper last year, Mr. Meleady has forged a relationship with the traveling troupe. Last March, he directed and acted in the Newton Nomadic production of “Turn of the Screw.” This time around, he selected “Molly Sweeney” to honor one of his heroes, fellow Irishman Brian Friel, who died in October.

As it turns out, Stephen Cooper, the actor whose role Mr. Meleady took over in “Faith Healer,” has recovered from his many serious injuries, and will take the stage as the husband in “Molly Sweeney.” “Stephen had done this play before,” Mr. Meleady says. “He had played the role I am playing. It was beautiful to bring Stephen around full circle.”

The third character, the blind wife, will be played by Welsh actress Noni Lewis, whom Mr. Meleady met while performing “The Christmas Revels” at Sanders Theatre at Harvard.

The free Vineyard performance was underwritten by an honorarium, which library director of adult programming Betty Burton was able to secure for the purpose. Normally the group charges $25 for tickets. “People are always surprised at the quality of the acting,” Mr. Reilly says. “They’re expecting community theatre. These are very accomplished actors.”

Hopefully, Newton Nomadic will be bringing more work to the Vineyard.

Newton Nomadic’s “Molly Sweeney”: Sunday, March 13, at 5:30 at the Vineyard Haven library. Free.