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'Blindness' at Harman Hall: Brilliant, Unique, Mesmerizing

Being back at the Shakespeare Theatre in Harman Hall was exciting in itself. Being there as part of the experience of Blindness was exquisite. It was mesmerizing to listen and in essence participate on headphones to one of the most brilliant pieces of theater you will have ever been too.

Blindness is the collaboration of Director Walter Meierjohann who first read Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago’s phantasmagorical novel over twenty years ago; and Playwright Simon Stephens. It was only after the Brexit vote in 2017 that Meierjohann said he tried to stage it. It took time and by the time it was ready we were facing the Covid pandemic and things dramatically changed. Blindness is the story of a pandemic which causes blindness. It is only coincidental it is now in the theatre during our current Covid pandemic but one can’t help think about that.

Peter Rosenstein
Peter Rosenstein

The Shakespeare Theatre prepares audiences for what you are going to see and feel but you quickly realize they couldn’t fully do that. You must see and feel this for yourself. There are only 40 people allowed in Sidney Harman Hall and everyone is on the stage seated in safety pods of the people you came with. You are prepared for an immersive sound and light installation featuring the recorded audio performance of the Olivier Award-winning actress Juliet Stevenson (Truly, Madly, Deeply), and are told you are in for a wholly unique experience. They weren’t kidding when they said it would be totally unique and exciting but that was understating it in a big way.

The story of the pandemic José Saramago wrote about has violence, government ineptitude, and fear, but it does end with hope. Just as today’s pandemic reaches what seems to be its peak here in the United States, there is some hope and a light at the end of a long tunnel.

Juliet Stevenson as the narrator and Doctor’s wife, the only person you hear speaking into your ear for seventy-five minutes, is nothing short of brilliant. She manages with just her voice to keep you on edge the entire time. The sound is such you keep wanting to turn around because you know she is right there whispering only in your ear.

This is the work of sound designers, Max and Ben Ringham. They are using binaural recording which according to Wikipedia “is a method of recording sound that uses two microphones, arranged with the intent to create a 3-D stereo sound sensation for the listener of actually being in the room with the performers or instruments.” They have accomplished this goal in spades.

Designer Lizzie Clachan and Lighting Designer Jessica Hung Han Yun have done a great job of setting the stage for what is to come. In order to create the feeling of being blind most of the time you are sitting in total darkness. Every once in a while there is a light which seems to indicate the doctor’s wife who is walking around and is the only one who can see. We the audience are the people who have been blinded by the pandemic. The transitions are smooth and only add to the play which can only be really described as an event.

There aren’t many tickets left but Blindness has been extended until June 13th and if you can get a ticket this is an event you shouldn’t miss.