Review – Going Dark – Sound&Fury’s at Young Vic

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Hustled by an usher into a very dark room, I squeezed next to my companion, glad he’d come out to find me when I darted off to the bathroom shortly before the start of Going Dark. I hadn’t read too much about the show other than it was about an astronomer – or maybe astronomy – and was by the guys who did Kursk. I hadn’t realized it was in a non-standard space behind the Young Vic, was general seating, and was going to require me to leave all my bags in a locker (although I kept my coat on as I needed access to my cough drops).

Inside, we were sat in a triple circle around an open middle, with a rather low ceiling, and warned to not stick anything under our chairs. What followed was, for me, quite unexpected. I was expecting lectures on the stars and man’s place in the universe; I was not expecting a one man show with a disembodied voice playing the invisible six year old son, Leo. I was not, to be honest, expecting to be taken on the emotional journey the protagonist experiences as he realizes he is going blind. We understand he is losing his sight at the very beginning, when a red dot projected on the side of the room fails to draw a response from him during an optical exam, and it’s easy to understand how this is going to be a problem for an astronomer; but it all becomes a catastrophe as you realize how it is going to impact his relationship with his son. To lose your sight is sad; to have this cause you to lose your job, terrible; to have blindness take away your identity as a parent and the most central relationship you have in your life, an incredible tragedy.

All the while this show is going on, we are, in some ways, able to experience Max’s sight, his vision of the stars (“look away and you can see the Crab Nebulae with your peripheral vision” – and he was right, it was there), the things he starts not to see, the things he stops seeing, the things he shouldn’t see. And, for long minutes, we experience all of his world: a great, dark room, with voices announcing tube stops, and the tap tap tapping of a cane on a tile floor. Not even the exit sign was visible in the infinite blackness; there was no sign that there was another human being around anywhere. I reached out in the dark and touched my friend’s face and was reassured; somehow it seemed to say to me that I wouldn’t die by myself.

For all that this play is visceral and intense, it is not, in the end, gloomy (nor nauseatingly chipper, thank God). But it really moved me. I never knew what to expect; I felt my mind expanding and contracting, thinking far more about the character on stage than I usually do, wondering about his life … forgetting he wasn’t real. That, for me, is magic; that and the feeling that in a universe that is almost entirely made of nothing, for a moment I did not feel alone.

(This review is for a performance that took lace on March 21st, 2012. Going Dark continues through March 24th.)

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