This weekend, the Barnard Theatre Department presented an original piece by Pulitzer Prize nominee Rinde Eckert. An anonymous arts aficionado was there and he’s got some things to say.
Until you have seen a bald, middle-aged blind man frolicking among gyrating youths, playing an accordion and moaning wordlessly in falsetto, you have seen nothing worthwhile. Eye Piece—an experimental Greek tragedy— is a testimony to this fact. Rinde Eckert (the bald, middle-aged playwright who also plays the aforementioned “Blind Musician”) has created a play that amounts to an extended statement of familiar themes that to anyone who has read the Masterpieces Of Western Literature (hint: Oedipus), are quite predictable.
The chorus is a “choir of eye-doctors” who discuss and reenact the experiences of their patients. The performances are all solid. Ben Russell’s subtlety makes the character Tiresias bearable (also note the *NSYNC-era Justin Timberlake quality of his hairstyle) while the excessively loud Justin Restivo shows great comic timing as Oedipus. Alessio Mineo plays a painter with a case of retinitis pigmentosa, and Lindsay Forcade his muse. These two “characters” seem to do nothing but clothe and unclothe themselves while spouting platitudes about “sight” and “darkness”. They are colossally insipid and uninteresting – mouthpieces for the everpresent Eckert – and it is a testament to the strength of the actors that I was not gouging out “Jacob Rothman”’s eyes myself. There is a vacuous old woman (Tabea Weitz) who describes herself as “an elegant old bird with an inflated sense of dignity” and a doctor (the energetic Julien Hawthorne deserves better) who struggles tediously with what it means to be a doctor. Finally there is Mr Eckert, the accordionist—he alone presumptuous enough to equate himself with Homer. He sits conspicuously on one side of the stage, making sound effects, entering only to give, at the close of Act I, a tepid speech about “fear.”
The script is based on Eckert’s experiences “as part of a residency at the University of Iowa” and apparently was “continually transformed in rehearsal”. It is occasionally funny (Mr Eckert has all the comedic skill of a Pulitzer Prize nominated playwright) and frequently calls attention to the theatre itself. The symbolism is as one would expect, e.g. “I was just a girl when I saw my first eclipse of the sun”. There are such sentences as “perhaps there’s too much light, we are suffocating in it” and “we have banished the infinity of the night”. The play is also punctuated with inexplicable and unnecessary musical numbers, with lyrics as vomitous as “this color, blue, has invaded my dreams” and “I am an orange moon in the night sky”.
Despite all, there are some good moments. The old woman’s comparison of her eyes to a burnt house, a priest in a hydraulically raised pulpit, Bintu Conteh’s hilarious portrayal of an old blind woman reading a magazine, and a monologue very well delivered by Jin Ha which ends in darkness – these are all scenes that, despite their excruciating obviousness, manage to wring a few laughs or sighs from their pupils. All praise to the terrific cast!
In the end, however, Eye Piece is so self-consciously “about blindness”, and so invested in its own uninspired conclusions, that any sense of drama is eclipsed by that bookish, preachy, and ultimately stale overtone. Blindness leads to comments on the limits of human understanding, fate, medicine, bigotry (“homophobia, racism, sexism” are swiftly mentioned, as if they had to be squeezed in somewhere), and the infinity of the universe. The theme becomes, like Eckert himself, a constant and ridiculous presence, and its effect is not the high tragedy or intellectual stimulation I believe he was aiming for, but a convergence of caricatures, tempered by some solid acting.
The theatre was half empty. Support the arts on campus, philistines!
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