Published in The New York Times
Extreme method acting alert: in the Vortex Theater Company's production of ''The Blind,'' Maurice Maeterlinck's 1890 play about sightless people in a forest waiting for their caretaker to return, the three actors wear opaque contact lenses that make them unable to see. Newly adapted by Bathsheba Doran, the play runs at the Classic Stage Company from Wednesday to next Sunday. Zachary Pincus-Roth talked to the company about learning to walk, talk and act blind.
THE BLINDFOLDS - For about three weeks the actors wore blindfolds during rehearsal and practiced listening to one another to orient themselves on the mostly empty stage. They also had to lose habits blind people don't have, like pointing and turning to look at a sound source.
THE CONTACTS - When Libby King first put them in, she started to cry. ''It was an empathy thing,'' she said. ''It was just a really jarring, upsetting thing.'' The lenses, made by Vision Direct and called Blind Eye (they're usually sold for Halloween use), make the eyes look completely white. The actors see a whiteness but can detect light and dark somewhat. For the first rehearsal with contacts, the director, Kristjan Thorgeirsson, made the actors walk from 11th Avenue and 23rd Street to Ninth Avenue and 22nd Street. It took an hour. ''We'd say, 'Are we on 23rd Street?' and no one would answer,'' Hannah Kenah said. A homeless man finally told them when to cross the street. Joshua Randall, the artistic director, intervened only when Robert M. Johanson was about to step in dog feces. The excursion also drummed up publicity, as Mr. Randall passed out fliers to bemused onlookers.
THE PERFORMANCES - In an earlier run at the Frying Pan, the former lightship moored near Chelsea Piers, the actors performed on a metal floor among planks, pits and other obstacles while distracted by creaks, construction noise and helicopters. It was still better than the Classic Stage Company's smooth indoor stage. ''The floor of the boat acted like Braille, because there were so many beams and bumps and indicators,'' Ms. Kenah said. Mr. Thorgeirsson noticed that many audience members did not appear to know that the actors could not see until the curtain call, when they grabbed for one another's hands. Late in the run, the contacts were lost and the actors performed with sight. ''It was awful,'' Mr. Johanson said. Ms. Kenah, who at one point has to run into audience members, had to watch them cringe. ''I've kind of fallen in love with performing blind,'' she said. ''It strips away a layer of self-consciousness.''