Guiding us out of the darkness

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A gathering in Central Park. Photo: JH.

Monday, May 24, 2021. A very warm weekend in New York with lots of Sun and temps reaching into the high 80s and the RealFeel just up to the mid-90s. It’s been beautiful weather for more than a week now, almost as if Summer has already arrived. Which does not mean that it has. However, in the meantime…

This past Thursday I went with a friend to see the first theatre that I’ve seen in more than a year. I think the last time I was in a theater was when Bette Midler starred in Hello, Dolly. This time I was invited by another friend and couldn’t resist out of curiosity about the actual Daryl Roth Theatre. 

Mother/son power producers Daryl and Jordan Roth.

I’ve known Daryl on a very superficial basis for years, the way I know a lot of people in New York because of the NYSD. The theatre business has always been more than a passing interest on many levels. Women producers also interest me because it’s a tough business to swim in, let alone survive, and the women I’ve known with that title are some of nicest, hippest women I know.

Daryl Roth has been at it for years and even has a son who is a power in the theatre business. So I was curious to see what she had achieved with her own theater.

In a word, Wonderful!

The Daryl Roth Theatre was built 115 years ago as a bank on the corner of 15th  Street and Park Avenue South, right across the avenue from Union Square. It’s a very busy area and still filled with much architecture which dates back more than a century. There are beautiful brick townhouses along East 15th Street, obviously more than a century old but simple and elegant. You can see this is where prosperous New Yorkers lived when 15th Street was actually uptown from the center of the city (downtown).

Blindness. I didn’t know what to expect. I have a friend who is very knowledgeable about theatre and productions. He heard it was “dark a lot” and it didn’t interest him. The thought didn’t affect me because I had been invited and was curious. 

I had no idea of the play’s history, which was as follows (from the program):

Blindness, the acclaimed Donmar Warehouse production of Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago’s dystopian novel by Tony Award winning playwright Simon Stephens, is a socially distanced theatrical event. Through spell-binding storytelling, narrated by Juliet Stevenson and state of the art design it unveils the gripping story of a world changed forever, reminding us that from the darkness, we will all emerge stronger.

I hadn’t read that before attending. I was very impressed by Daryl’s place in the pantheon of New York/Broadway theatre. This one, which was opened in 1996, comprises 3 venues.

The main theatre space has hosted such non-traditional hits as the long running De La Guarda and Fuerza Bruta, which played a combined 14 years; Almost, Maine; In & Of ItselfGloria: A Life; Hannah Gadbsy’s Douglas; and Peter Dinklage in Cyrano: The Musical. The intimate DR2 has been home to shows including the U.S. premiere of Thom Pain (based on nothing), Stars of David, and That Golden Girls Show, as well as our DR2 Kids programing that introduces our youngest patrons to theatre; like Dear, Edwina and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Prepared for the show about to begin …
The lights above.

Blindness, the play. I had no idea what to expect; would we be sitting in the dark? Whaaa? I found that hard to believe.

On entering the auditorium, a vast three-story-tall room, all in black, were pairs of chairs, two by two, placed at a distance from all other pairs, each facing in one of the four directions. And there was a construction overhead of what looked like metal bars, arranged in an order that meant they were part of the show.

It was explained on arrival that all courtesies and consideration were observed about “distancing” and surfaces. There were sanitized earphones in a plastic bag on our chairs. Once we put them on, we learned about what the program would be. There would be “extended periods of darkness.” The play itself would be read/performed by Juliet Stevenson.

In the “Darkness.”

It began with a woman driving her car when she suddenly, instantly went blind, yelling, “I can’t see! I’m blind!” And suddenly it all turned black. From there the story moved on to her life under the circumstances.

Two things were going on in my head. Firstly, because of the darkness (and it was pitch-black darkness), I found myself listening to the drama but also wondering if I might lose my sight during this hour and ten minute show.

An absurd, fearful yet naturally dramatic thought, but between the dialogue and the blackness I couldn’t help thinking of this dilemma that would/could affect anybody, and what would that be like to experience. Darkness leaves you entirely to your thoughts. A stranger in one’s own life. What power and courage is required, and amazingly is often achieved. But so what?

That question never leaves you throughout the entire show. In fact you quickly forget about it being a “show,” because its essence and nature includes you “in.” But that was only the beginning of the drama read/acted out by Ms. Stevenson.

What happens in the end is for you to find out. By the time it rolled around, the front doors to the stage were opened (as part of the experience) unto the avenue with cars and pedestrians passing by. The theatre room was still blackened except for the light that came through the open doors for our exit. Our sight had been restored and how beautiful it was to see. It was 6:30 pm and the Sun was in the setting phase, lending a golden light to the scene passing by. At first the passing parade almost looked like a perfect video, as if this were part of the finale. It was very artful, and the contrasts of the summer colors was comforting. It was more than going to the theatre.

The experience of Blindness — and it is an experience — is in another way a message to guide us out of the darkness that we’ve experienced this past year. The ultimate message of the Theatre.

Hear! Hear!

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