If you asked me 18 months ago if I wanted to spend an evening in a dark theatre downtown “experiencing” an audio-based science-fiction theatrical event, telling the tale of an epidemic that seemed (at the time) truly unbelievable, I probably would have opted out of the opportunity. Quite frankly, I probably wouldn’t have been able to connect to work. At the time, it likely seemed so far-fetched.
Flash forward a year and a half.
The unbelievable did happen. And far-fetched suddenly felt deeply personal and realistic in some ways. Look, I don’t need to get into the depths of the impact of isolation and collective misery, we all know that we spent the past year+ in our homes — deprived of art, culture, and most of all human connection. So naturally, when the opportunity to get out of my apartment and attend Blindness presented itself, I texted my friend and we jumped on it. For more reasons than just solely the obvious, I’m so glad we did. For starters, theatre is back! Blindness is what I consider to be a stepping stone and an important piece of work.
As one of the first shows back in New York (Blindness premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in London in late 2020), this piece set a precedent — it had to intelligently bring socially distanced theatre back in an accessible way that gave audience members a night of arts and culture, but in a way that feels right-sized.
Now, let’s be clear. Blindness is more of an experience and a sign of the times, rather than a traditional Off-Broadway production. You walk into the Daryl Roth Theatre and are separated by “pods” of two, so you know who is within your immediate vicinity. Of course, masks are required at all times during the 70-minute production. Everywhere you look there are bright and colorful neon lights (Lighting Design by Jessica Hung Han Yun) hanging from above, but there’s no stage. It’s just pods of chairs everywhere with headphones on each seat, which the ushers confirm have been deeply sanitized for your use — it’s comforting, actually. Those headphones and lights become your lifelines and insert you into the story in ways you didn’t think possible.
As for the story, imagine this: a rare, sweeping epidemic that affects everyone differently, with little-to-no information and an unhelpful government trying to downplay the whole situation, while society reacts in a frenzy. A wild concept, I know. Believe it or not, however, Blindness is based on Nobel prize winner, Jose Saramago’s dystopian novel from 1995. The Donmar Warehouse production (Directed by Walter Meierjohann) was penned by Tony-Award Winning playwright, Simon Stephens, who uses poignant and meaningful dialogue to connect with the audience in deeper and more personal ways. The production features the voice of Juliet Stevenson, who carries the show with her varied inflection and extremely impressive range, bouncing from character to character, telling this petrifying story from multiple perspectives, each one extremely believable. Her voice was oddly calming and intense at the same time, it almost felt like she was all of our inner dialogue for the first 4 months of coronavirus pandemic. I felt like I was there with her. With them. And maybe that’s because in some ways, we were. And for that, we must credit the Sound Designers on this project, Ben and Max Ringham who essentially created an audio-based alternative universe that made the audience feel closer to the story than anything I’ve ever felt in my life. My ears can still hear Stevenson’s whispers and screams.
As we try to navigate our way out of these trying and unprecedented times, we need art that helps us make that transition in a realistic way. Blindness does exactly that and also urges us to remember that unthinkable things can (and do) happen and to be grateful for our progress in this journey at this point in time. If I had to describe the production in two words, they would be eye-opening.
Blindness is playing at the Daryl Roth Theatre, for more information visit: https://www.blindnessevent.com