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BWW Review: Shakespeare Theatre's BLINDNESS a Once-in-a-Lifetime Theatrical Experience

Shakespeare Theatre's BLINDNESS a Once-in-a-Lifetime Theatrical Experience

BWW Review:  Shakespeare Theatre's BLINDNESS a Once-in-a-Lifetime Theatrical Experience

Some things that leap out at you, that scare the bejeezus out of you, and leave you riveted by Walter Meierjohann's production of "Blindness." To begin with there's the descending darkness, punctuated by blinding fluorescent light. There's the eeriness with which, after over an hour in a heavily-curtained nightmare, the empty seats of the Sidney Harman Theatre are slowly, dimly revealed, shadows of theatres past.

Last but not least is the sense that actress Juliet Stevenson, your guide through this fresh Hell, is inches away from your left ear (definitely the left ear), confiding in you about the real darkness that has enveloped us all.

Simon Stephens' adaptation of Jose Saramago's novel "Blindness" is stunning, and whatever you've heard about it I can only add my own wonderment at the experience. You sit in a blackened warehouse-like space, with dangling fluorescent tubes in a variety of colors; you put on your headphones, and wait. Enough panic ensues in that darkness, that ushers have kindly offered a way for you to escape if the performance becomes too unnerving (my strong advice: definitely check the flashlight taped to your chair, you might need it).

On the surface, it's a play about a pandemic of blindness-but the blindness is yours as well. It's almost entirely an audio experience, and bears comparison to some of the classic radio dramas our grandparents grew up with. In terms of its structure and dramatic effect, it's comparable to the Mercury Theatre's infamous broadcast of "The War of the Worlds," starting as it does from an objective, narrator's point of view but rapidly shifting to a first-person account. (Stevenson gives Orson Welles-the Mercury Theater's guide-a run for his money and then some).

In this case, Meierjohann plunges you directly into the asylum where the plague's first victims have been quarantined, and Stevenson's voice establishes that you are one of the inmates-an ophthalmologist, blinded like the rest, with your wife as the only eyes on the world you've got.

What makes this such an essentially theatrical experience is the way that Meierjohann has directed Stevenson's movements through a space as palpable as it is imaginary. The quality of the sound recording is so acute that you know exactly where she is at every moment. Stevenson's performance is a marvel as she careens from the soothing, caring, den-mother to a shrieking, blood-soaked avenging angel, unafraid of what she has to do to survive.

After a draining 75 minutes with Stevenson so shockingly close, you'll be ever so grateful once the Harman opens up again and you can sit at a safe distance from the action (won't that be a relief).

But in sum: "Blindness" is a once-in-a-lifetime theatrical experience.

Do what you have to do.

Get there. Now.

Production Photo: from The Donmar Warehouse production of "Blindness." Photo by Helen Maybanks.

Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission.

Performances of Blindness have already been extended through June 13.

For tickets please visit:

https://www.shakespearetheatre.org/events/blindness-20-21/


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From This Author Andrew White