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|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By David Avery
The story centers on Tommy (David Rousseve), an ex-cab driver who lost his sight in an accident eight years previously. In the intervening years, he also seems to have lost his ambition, humor, and any sense of cleanliness.
The play begins (and takes place entirely) in Tommy's apartment, in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York. Tommy, once known as "the most feared white cab driver in New York," has given up on life, evidenced by the squalor of his living conditions. His sole remaining contact appears to be his friend Lou (Jim O'Heir), a bartender at the Terminal Bar who checks up on Tommy periodically, reads him his mail, drinks with him , and tries to keep up Tommy's spirits.
The first act is set on the day before Christmas Eve, with Lou giving Tommy some bad (in Tommy's mind) news. He is moving to Vermont with his new girlfriendy. Tommy yells that "Vermont is not a place you move to, it's a place you move away from" and throws Lou out of the apartment.
Not wanting to leave Tommy completely alone, Lou has gone to the "Blind Place" and procured help for his friend in the form of Edna (Alice Ensor), a homely, somewhat physically handicapped volunteer. And so as Lou leaves, she arrives and a battle of wills ensues.
The second act moves eight days forward to New Years Eve and focuses on the changes that have taken place, as well as Lou's unexpected return. While the first act is funnier, the second act illuminates the play's central theme -- change, and what it takes to achieve it. To find change Edna volunteered at the "Blind Place," and Lou pursued change by moving to Vermont. Tommy, on the other hand, resists change by clinging to self loathing and despair. He hates Lou for casting him aside by foisting him off on a stranger.
The actors are uniformly excellent. Tommy radiates misery and anger. Lou is wretched knowing that he has leave his friend. Edna, though tragic in her own way, won't let Tommy wallow in self-pity. When she points out to him that he is not only physically blind, but emotionally blind to other people's pain he sarcastically counters that she will continue to be taking care of sick relatives she complains about. The dialog between Lou and Edna in the second act about how people "take an emotional snapshot" of the ones they love is touching and true.
The cast has obviously perfected their repartee with each other, and the zingers fly fast and furiously. The actors all assume a New York twang, but one that is not so thick as to detract from the words -- rather, it lends authenticity to the characters and their status at the lower end of society. Instead of pontificating, the actors in this play really talk to each other.
director Macario Gaxiola adeptly underlines the points in the play. In the opening scene, the stage is barely lit to show that Tommy doesn't bother to change burnt-out bulbs (he's blind after all). He is literally and figuratively "in the dark." Lou steals a bulb from outside thus bringing the only light into Tommy's life. The sudden light flooding the stage also comes as a great shock as it reveals just how disgusting Tommy's apartment is. . In another nice lighting touch, the apartment gradually transforms into St. Patrick's Cathedral as the first act closes. There is a delightful chase sequence which ends in Edna brandishing a "gun" to keep Tommy at a distance
The language of the play is not sappy or demeaning but hard and quickl. The central conceit of the of the "cripple" being lead back to a useful life by the self-sacrificing "angel" is hardly original. But the lack of sentimentality saves it from being banal. Jokes are made at the expense of Tommy's sightlessness, but they are not cruel.
I'll say it again, because it bears repeating: the apartment is DISGUSTING. I have to give Two Blue Chairs a hand in creating a most realistic vision of squalor, including discarded food packages, empty beer bottles, and not-so-faux water streaks in the wallpaper (my wife wondered half-jokingly if they have problems with roaches between shows). Which makes the stage transformation in the second half that much more effective. How they did it in the 15 minute intermission is, I'm sure, a company secret.
Overall, Light Sensitive was a surprising treat: excellent performances, with a solid script and great presentation. Now if somebody would only donate the money to fix those seats.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. >Click image to buy.
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6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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