Tapping into some of man's deepest fears and almost visceral in its intensity, the Godlight Theatre Company presents a brilliant piece of theatre with the American premiere of Blindness, based on Jose Saramago's Nobel Prize-winning novel—well-adapted and directed by Joe Tantalo.
Taking place in an unnamed city in the present day, people are suddenly and inexplicably afflicted with "white blindness," seeing nothing but a milky white haze. Affecting only a few at first, things soon reach epidemic proportions, with panicked authorities herding the stricken into deserted building, warehouses, and factories, all of which have been hastily set up as containment centers where those inside are forbidden contact with the outside world.
Once inside, the law of the jungle quickly asserts itself, reducing most of the blinded to little more than animals fighting to survive, or acting on their most base desires. Meanwhile, those outside are seemingly content to let the detainees sort matters out amongst themselves. (A speech by a guard explaining the rules of the enclosure shows how quickly a free society can be come totalitarian when someone decides circumstances warrant.) Adding to their woes, the captives must also deal with a group amongst them (also blind) who have seized all available food and demand payment before dispensing it.
The play shows the captives stripped down to their very core, forced to submit to unspeakable horrors under rapidly decaying conditions; such as when the men allow the women to service the hoarders in exchange for food, something the ladies accept with fatal resignation. Several of the scenes are rather graphic (they all makes perfect sense within the content of the play, but are uncomfortable to watch nonetheless).
However, through it all, there's a glimmer of hope in the form of a woman (Kristen Harlow) only pretending to be blind to be near her afflicted husband (Timothy Fannon); as well as a desperate attempt to seize control of the compound, and perhaps the chance of an escape to the outside.
The entire cast is superb. In addition to Harlow and Fannon, other standouts include Gregory Konow in a double role as the sadistic leader of the food hoarders and an almost robotic prison guard; Sam Whitten, (also doing double duty as a guard and criminal); and Alisa Burket as a call girl. But there are no false notes from any of the cast, who work so well together on a stage which is little more than a large white box with a white scrim enclosing it so the audience can never clearly see what's happening. (Wonderful set and lighting by Maruti Evans.) Also deserving mention is the excellent movement and choreography by Hachi Yu.
Also in the cast are Mike Roche, Lawrence Jansen, Katherine Boynton, Enid Cortes, Darren Curley, Michael Tranzilli, Michael Shimkin, Daniel Ball, Nick Paglino, Cyrus J. Roxas, Deanna McGovern, and David Bartlett.
Presented by Godlight Theatre Company
59 East 59th Street
Tickets: 212-279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.org
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.