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Lights On (And Off) For Soundscape Thriller – Deadline

New York Theater fights its way into the dark with the Off Broadway opening tonight of the actor-less tech and narrative wonder Blindness, a sound and light excursion in the dystopian landscape of hell of Nobel Prize winner José Saramago’s great allegory of locked-out humanity.

With members of the (masked) audience scattered in pairs of socially distanced head offices and arranged on the otherwise empty theater floor Daryl Roth, the Saramago thriller, adapted for this production Donmar Warehouse by Tony Award-winning playwright Simon StephensThe curious incident of the dog during the night) and directed by Walter Meierjohann, glides past you like a whisper and, if necessary, a scream.

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The hyper-realistic sonic story is echoed by what has to be the most effective noise canceling headphones on this side of NASA. The play isn’t narrated so much as that performed by Olivier Award-winning actress Juliet Stevenson, who guides the listening audience – a significant part of the production takes place in total darkness – through imaginations. Saramago’s nightmares of what would happen if humanity were struck by a sudden epidemic. of blindness.

The plot will be familiar to anyone who has read the 1995 novel or seen the 2008 film version of Fernando Meirelles starring Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. The epidemic is first told on a micro level – we are all but in the car with the first man struck by ‘white blindness’ in a traffic jam (the new disease does not make everything gloomy, but white as the snow).

From there Stevenson’s narrator goes on with the next victim, and the next and the next, until we are soon mentally drawn into the dirty, violent, locked, and nameless compound where the sick are abandoned by their panicked government and failing. . Everything is a little 1984 with a touch of Lord of the Flies, a handful of Sophie’s choice, a heap of Monsters are due on Maple Street and a thrill of the headlines from last spring.

The darkness of the theater is repeatedly interrupted by the flashes and slow gradations of a magnificent spare light installation – think of the fluorescent tubes arranged in a meticulous assemblage of horizontal and vertical reading sticks. Tubes move up and down and up from the ceiling, the different configurations sometimes glow a calming blue, a scorching red or flashing with the glowing white of an emergency alarm.

As effective (and truly and truly fascinating) as Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design is, the production would fall flat without Ben and Max Ringham’s multi-directional sound design that does so much work to put audiences in the middle. of terror. Footsteps move back and forth, alarms howl, and Stevenson’s voice seems to change from a scream in the far corners to a whisper just over your shoulder. More than once I have taken the headphones off, just to see if the sound is being increased by an external system, or even by living human beings. This was not the case.

Meierjohann’s staging – the concept, the technology, the performance – lends a liveliness to Saramago’s fabulism that the 2008 film lacked, with all of its graphic and naturalistic details. On screen, the outlines of allegory have reduced so many imprisoned characters to spokespersons, each an artificial representation of a human attribute – loyalty here, sadism there, compassion there. .

In this production, we receive everything through the voice of the only character who stays sighted, a storyteller gathering us around a virtual campfire to cool us down with the unseen horrors that breathe down our necks.

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