by Carole Di Tosti
Benjamin Franklin counseled, “Be not disturbed at trifles or accidents common or unavoidable.” However, shouldn’t one be more than disturbed when a horrific accident occurs and those responsible may be negligent for not doing all in their power to prevent it? Grave emotional trauma to seek the outer boundaries of vigilante justice when life has been lost through an unthinkable event are at the heart of the taut drama My Eyes Went Dark, written, and directed with thoughtful precision by Matthew Wilkinson.
The production is a performance tour de force around which soul tragedy, self-betrayal and vengeance combine to break open an enlightened revelation by the play’s conclusion. You will have to fasten your seat belts to follow the opaque, tense, and emotional journey of protagonist Nikolai Koslov (portrayed with moment-to-moment realism and searing nuance by Declan Conlon) who grapples with the loss of his wife and two children after their plane crashes.
During the course of his interchanges with various individuals, Dr. Geisinger, a Photographer, a Co-ordinator, Litzka, Weitner and others (Thusitha Jayasundera acutely defines each individual she portrays with vocal, physical and emotional specificity in a prodigious effort) we are able to cobble together the external circumstances that have driven Koslov, a successful architect, beyond the rational edges of grief and desolation to nightly sleep in the graveyard where his family is buried. As we watch his cataclysmic personal response, we note that he has cauterized his emotions. His feelings are suppressed within, and he is impassive as others (Litzka) weep in empathy.
His primary concern at this juncture is to take care of the gravesite and steel his emotions to legally challenge the jet company and others responsible for the crash. The investigators have declared the crash an accident. The air traffic controller who was guiding the plane has been vindicated, his actions deemed a mistake. Koslov cannot function, cannot resume his life, cannot adequately mourn. He seeks the company’s owners and the air traffic controller in an attempt to gain restitution, justice, recompense for the loss of everything that mattered to him, his family.
Because he is incapable of confronting himself and his own responsibility in what has happened, he seeks an irrational vengeance against the air traffic controller in “the blink of an eye” when “his eyes went dark.” Though he was guilty of momentary insanity and cannot remember his brutal action, after he is imprisoned, released and writes about his experiences to great acclaim, he is able to restore his life and achieve a culmination in his career as he benefits the area where he was born and raised.
It is when he is celebrating his overcoming triumph that he is confronted with his true identity and behavior; we understand that he has betrayed himself. His eyes have been dark to his darkened soul all along. And it is only at the play’s conclusion that a glimmer of light penetrates his consciousness so he can understand who he is and what he has done. Perhaps then he will forgive himself and heal.
The production values, artistically expressed with the assistance of Bethany Wells, Elliot Griggs, Max Pappenheim, Chris Withers and Richard Bell, create a background of darkness, light and sounds which symbolically represent the crash, the passage of time and other events and scenarios. The stark minimalism of two chairs which are staged across from each other, Wilkinson uses to signify changes in time and place as the actors move to reveal different venues and characters. There are no props other than the chairs and the lights in the playing area which may also be symbolic of the truth, and the darkness which blinds Koslov’s mind until the conclusion.
Wilkinson’s work and this production are an intriguing mental exercise. Koslov’s journey is frighteningly real and the playwright drives the themes unbearably close to home as we realize that, like Koslov, we deny, we shift the blame, we make excuses and we venerate and memorialize those we have lost, when the reality of our treatment of them was less than sterling. As Wilkinson shifts the drama toward Koslov’s final realization, the play’s power and dynamism are trenchant. This is an exceptional achievement in a production that is stylized and expressionistic.
My Eyes Went Dark has no intermission. It is currently running at 59E59 Theaters (59 East Fifty-ninth Street) part of the Brits Off Broadway 2017 season until 2 July. Tickets: 212-279-4200 or Online: http://www.59e59.org/boxoffice.php
Photos: Carol Rosegg