One of the most interesting plays that have been made this year, with strict sanitation and social isolation measures, Blindness (blindness, in its Spanish translation), begins its performances at the Teatro de los Insurgentes in Mexico City —the first there since theaters reopened after the last red light. It is an English work, one of the first to be premiered in London in August last year (when the idea of a vaccine was still remote), and inspired by the famous novel by José Saramago, Essay on Blindness (1995), about an epidemic that blinds almost the entire population.
Although this year the theaters of the world and their viewers have tried to adapt to Zoom and YouTube to continue working, Blindness is a multisensory work without intermediates in which excellent sound and lighting production solve several of the technological dilemmas of pandemic theater. The main protagonist, the only woman who can see on this dystopian planet of the blind, is not obliged to perform live in front of the spectators at each performance, because they only hear her voice during the 70 minutes that the play lasts through headphones. (sanitized). A tiny group of sound and lighting technicians are all it takes to “open the curtain” several times a day, to small groups of spectators wearing face masks.
In its Mexican version, the monologue of Blindness heard through binaural headphones – more like the human ear than analog headphones – comes with the voice of Mexican actress Marina de Tavira, who was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress for the film. Roma.
Seated at a distance from each other, the sound coming out of the headphones allows viewers to hear Tavira whispering her fears very close to their ears, or to hear her footsteps from one side of the room to the other as she paces desperately, or to imagine the enormous thickness of her tears when she is heard crying with her husband. “Is there a future?” Asks the protagonist about the world infected with an epidemic that no one knows how to cure.
The spectators in the room are in almost complete darkness, a meter and a half apart from each other, but tubes of white light that go up and down from the ceiling frame them when the protagonist and dozens of blind people are locked up by the Government in a madhouse (true to what happens in Saramago’s novel).
The production of lights is what makes this experience very different from listening to a podcast at home: if Tavira’s voice helps generate a sense of confusion and despair during an epidemic, it is the flashing lights that flood viewers with panic. “It is seen that here no one can be saved,” says the protagonist of Essay on blindness, “Blindness is also this, living in a world where hope is over.”
The work opens in Mexico one year after the coronavirus pandemic was declared, a coincidence that is not minor. Although today citizens on social networks remember where or with whom they were when they heard the news that changed the world, with the hope of the vaccine it is more difficult to remember the feelings that flooded the planet in March 2020. The memory of emotions is more vaporous than the cell phone. Blindness is a work that allows those emotions to be relived: the fear that the invisible disease is in any corner, the shock when a government official goes blind in the middle of a presentation, the moving actions of solidarity among citizens, or the horror at the cruelty of those who took advantage of the situation to exploit others. Blindness it is not a work to find mental relief when the pandemic is not over. But it is a poetic incantation to the terror that we live and perhaps we already forget.
Although this work was to be shown in the fall in cities like Washington DC and Toronto, the increase in cases in those cities slowed down the premieres, and only now will it be able to be seen by viewers outside the UK. On April 2, the play will be presented in an American version in New York, and the Mexican version at the Teatro de los Insurgentes that starts this Friday will be available for eight weeks. The adaptation of the work by the famous theater writer Simon Stephens, in Mexico City, was co-directed by the Mexican Mauricio García-Lozano and the Englishman Walter Meierjohann (who directed the English version last year).
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.