The most brilliant thing about Godlight Theatre Company's adaptation of Jose Saramago's novel Blindness is the lighting. The audience enters the theatre on either side of a small rectangular space, approximately 10 feet by 20 feet, with two walls made of white scrim, in which actors pace. The simple, spare set is designed by Maruti Evans, as is the lighting, and goes further in effectively shaping the play's intention than the earnest efforts of director Joe Tantalo, who also adapted the novel, and the ensemble cast. As fluorescent lighting and floor lights flicker and flash, the scrim becomes opaque and audience members -- facing each other across the rectangle -- become blind to one another.
When the lights begin to lower, a male actor (Mike Roche) cries out in the dark, "I'm blind!" He's the first to be struck by a "white blindness" that soon inexplicably infects all the people with whom he comes into direct contact: a thief (Laurence Jansen), an ophthalmologist (Timothy Fannon), and those other patients in the waiting room. While the doctor and his wife (Kristen Harlow) discuss his predicament (she hasn't gone blind), they're interrupted and quarantined with the other victims in an abandoned asylum. The metaphor of "the blind leading the blind" is an easy one to apply; although Harlow's character can see throughout, she's ineffectual in helping guide the group through the harrowing conditions of internment.
Unlike the lighting, which raises and lowers, changes color, or pulses with strobes, the actors reach a fever pitch of hysteria -- yells, cries, screams, and constant anguish -- that is sustained for so long without fluctuation that the situation exhausts in its attempt to overwhelm. Instead of the audience being blinded with light, it's rendered numb and speechless.
Presented by Godlight Theatre Company
at 59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St., NYC.
March 6-April 8. Tue.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 and 7:30 p.m.
(212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com.