nytheatre.com review by James Harrison Monaco
September 3, 2010
As a friend, I could confidently recommend any writer, director, or actor to get a ticket to the NYC Players production of Christina Manciotti's Vision Disturbance. Its formal elements—the sentences, the acting by Jay Smith and Linda Mancini, the design, the rhythm, the blocking and spacing—are virtuosic. At its opening, a reticent eye doctor stands in the darkness and shines a white flashlight around the periphery of a Greek woman's eyes. He moves the light in a circle, which throws a haunting, ten foot shadow of her head on the wall behind them. The shadow orbits the two of them as he circles the light and they share the dry, investigative banter of doctor and patient. Their voices are near monotone and the text is choppy. Within the first three seconds the audience was silent and still, and our mouths were all slightly open. I don't think mine closed until the play was over. This was because for two hours every choice—by the writer, by director Richard Maxwell, by the actors and designers—was as sharp, small, and meticulously weird as that opening moment. Also they were all based in character. Any theatre artist could learn or steal a good deal from this ensemble that clearly knows its chops.
I wonder, though, how the 8 million or so non-theatre makers in the city would respond to Vision Disturbance. I imagine they will look for "something larger" in the story, and I think it might be there for them. The plot is clear and intriguing. Mondo (the Greek woman) has lost part of her vision and is referred to Dr. Hull. Hull decides the vision loss is stress-induced, and instead of standard treatments he prescribes a visit to the symphony. Mondo's vision worsens, and Hull then prescribes playing the piano. Mondo's vision gets so bad she has to wear an eye patch, and even begins to lose her hearing. In intermittent asides each character describes their deteriorating personal lives. Soon a dependency grows between the two and a unique relationship develops.
The trajectory of this relationship, though, is muted and dim. Only in hindsight, when the play was over, did I begin to understand it and why the play moved in the way it did. In the moment, though I was strung along by how strangely and unfeelingly the lines and images seemed to progress, I was constantly asking: why are they doing this? Why is this what I'm seeing?
Why all the offbeat formal choices, except as a way to keep the audience awake? They disturb and disrupt the audience's senses (with eerie success), and so we understand more clearly what Mondo suffers. Is that valuable, in and of itself, to identify with a character's suffering? It's illuminating, but what I had a harder time spotting was what Mondo longs for. Similarly, I see that Dr. Hull obsesses over Mondo, but what's his real desire in that? A month after the play, it's the quality of a character's desires that I tend to remember. I think it's also what speaks to people who aren't studying the technique.
And through a series of major design and direction choices made near the end, Mondo and Hull's desires are finally laid bare under brilliant light. The last ten minutes of the show is a grand look right at the heart (made possible largely by the affecting, inventive work from lighting and set Designer Adrian W. Jones). It comes, however, only when much of the performance vocabulary that had been established is switched for a larger style. It locked the characters in my memory, but much of their activity from the first hour, though entrancing in the moment, is lost on me.
But that's quibbling. This was my first Richard Maxwell/NYC Players experience, so I can't speak in comparison to their other work, but I do know I've been thinking about these two characters everywhere I go.