Saturday, June 15, 2024

Theater Review: “Blindness” Opens Off Broadway With Lights, Headphones, and the Donmar Stamp


If I have to ease into live theater, “Blindness” is a great conduit, and an event. At the Daryl Roth Theater, temperature taken, health form complete, viewers file into the cavernous space fitted with lighting fixtures, a neon of color; seats, two together, are distanced. Headsets in place like bunny ears, you are ordered to situate them properly, left ear, right ear, the authoritarian British voice commands, repeat. This is important for a visceral experience based on Jose Saramago’s famed novel, in Simon Stephens’ trim adaptation. Everything depends on sound and light. Sight too, or lack of it.

Much happens in 70 minutes as you sit still, your eyes adjusting to the black space, imagining yourself in a world shut down. (Not a stretch this year.) A voice, Juliet Stevenson’s tells the tale: a man goes blind; the loss of sight spreads to epidemic. The blind quarantine, fight for food, commit rape, murder. One woman, an ophthalmologist’s wife, retains her sight and leads the blind, but where? How quickly civilization falls away, society, what’s left, dystopia? No matter how bad it gets, “Don’t lose yourself,” she whispers in your ear, right, left, repeat.

The stars of this experience are the sound designers Ben and Max Ringham, and the extraordinary lighting designer Jessica Hung Han Yun under the direction of Walter Meierjohann. Simon Stephens, a Tony winner for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” pared down the Saramago parable, just so much you can take in the dark. Already a success in London prior to the pandemic, the Donmar Warehouse production seems prescient, a reminder of resilience. What a relief when the doors open to natural light, the street outside!

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