I could actually sum up this review in four words: Go. To. This. Production. This is an indelible experience.
…an intense and visceral…it needs to be experienced first-hand.
You enter a dimly-lit theatre and are directed to your seat which is the only one lit at that time — all patron groups enter one by one and wait until the previous people are at their seats. Except for the two end rows, each of the sets of two seats is side-by-side but facing each other. A set of headphones is provided at each seat. As you put them on, a soothing voice intones “right ear, left ear” to ensure you’ve got the correct earpiece on the correct ear.
Vertical and horizontal tubes of light are held aloft and changing colors, and with the change in colors, the vibe changes. You’re seated on the stage, but the rest of the theater is dark. Your world is now on the stage. Then the tubes come down to what would be chest-height if you were standing, and the show begins.
A beautifully modulated, upper crust Englishwoman begins the story. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but the story is of a pandemic, and one that is very universal. People are just going blind instantaneously and without any dimming or warning. Then the lights go out and we are all in total darkness for about the next 50 minutes.
This is an amazingly complex story encompassing societal breakdown (from the familiar first stages of government downplay of the seriousness of the pandemic to a non-functioning government), despair, survival, fear of change, being forced to change, and hope. It questions everything we think we know of human abilities and adaptability.
But even as you are immersed in this world, listening to the story unfold through the narrator, your senses begin to feel heightened. You might find yourself questioning what is real or not. You may hold hands with your seatmate. You might feel the imaginary breath of the narrator on your neck as she whispers in your ear. You could well find yourself turning in your seat to follow the sounds of doors, clanging, banging, dragging, footsteps, and ragged breathing. It is an intense and visceral experience. And it needs to be experienced.
This is audio-immersive theater on a whole other level. The sound design is simply brilliant and flawless. You don’t fall out of this story until given permission by the narrator.
One plea to audiences — please turn off the cell phones. While none rang out in the show, a couple of times I saw a small white light suddenly and dimly flare and then quickly extinguish. It wasn’t enough to disrupt the spell cast by this show, but it was a minor intrusion. Trust this process.
STC is presenting The Donmar Warehouse Production featuring the voice of Juliet Stevenson (an Olivier Award nominee for “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” opposite the late Alan Rickman). It is based on the novel by José Saramago, adapted by Simon Stephens, and directed by Walter Meierjohann. It is currently playing off-Broadway, in Hong Kong, and New Zealand.
Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes without intermission.
Show Advisory: Some strobe effects, flickering lights, total darkness.
Times: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 7 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 7 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m.; Wednesdays at 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. No performances on Mondays. No performances on Tuesday, May 25; Tuesday, June 1; or Tuesday, June 8.
“Blindness,” The Donmar Warehouse Production, has been extended through June 13, 2021 at Shakespeare Theatre Company, Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20004. This production is in person and socially distanced. Produced by Shakespeare Theatre Company. For more information and tickets, please click here.