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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp London Review
by Liza Zapol
Occasional screen projections display the text of the stage directions and of dialogue. There are sporadic chair dance interludes. Some scenes are sign interpreted by an actor or actors who may or may not be a part of the action as well. Scenes which takes place in separate settings are staged so that they completely overlap. These are just a few of the layers which are extremely confusing for the viewer.
Where does all of this clutter come from? The set is extremely simple: a white stage and a white screen behind it (for the projections of text and dialogue), and simple black chairs which are moved around to create the furniture. There are a few props, some blank canvases, and one painting (which I will address later). But this simple set does not necessarily clarify the action either, nor is the play intensely layered or abstruse.
We follow work buddies Shona (Jo McInnes) and Edward (Scott Graham) as they make separate discoveries about their identity and sexuality. Shona confronts her boyfriend Dan with an erotic portrait of her: if he doesn't like it, he doesn't like her. The shy and reserved Edward goes on a first date with Maria (Karina Jones), a blind and beautiful woman. Edward is confronted as he walks in her front door by the sight of Maria's deaf neighbour masturbating in her living room while she talks to him. Edward, confused and appalled, feels the teenager is taking advantage of Maria, and then feels he may be as well. She is forward and sexual, and he deflects her advances.
On Blindness addresses our inhibitions and misunderstandings which prevent connection. Miscommunication in any play can be frustrating to watch, but this seems magnified by the impression that no-one real or fictional on stage is communicating very well with each other or with the audience. This is despite the sign language translations, the projections, and other aids. In their favour, Steven Hoggett, as Shona's boyfriend Dan, and Karina Jones, as Maria, stand out as actors who are present with the text and the other actors.
Also frustrating is the reductive portrayal of women in this play. Women seem to act as catalysts for the sexual liberation of the men, themselves seemingly completely liberated. Both Shona and Maria are initially happy to be objectified, to be the used for male gratification, whether live or as a painting. Shona begins to question this slightly at the end of the play, as she confronts Gaetano, the portrait artist, about his selfish motivations for the painting. But her reflection doesn't last very long, before she returns to her ill-matching boyfriend.
This production is messy and disappointing. But I am left with questions to ponder about the play: Can we identify ourselves by who we attract and who we have sex with? Are these the main markers of identity in the modern age?
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
At This Theater
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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