A grieving father and husband, Nikolai Koslov (Declan Conlon), is having a hard time letting go of his rage. After his wife and two children lose their lives in a plane crash, his main concern is for those who survived. Was it an accident? A terrorist act? Who is responsible? And, most of all, who will be punished? During sessions with a therapist he clings to his anger with almost clinical resolve. He is either unable or unwilling to move on. But is there a difference?
One of nine works comprising this year’s “Brits Off Broadway” festival at 59E59 Theaters, My Eyes Went Dark is writer/director Matthew Wilkinson’s third foray on the New York stage, where two of his previous plays, Sun is Shining and Red Sea Fish, have also been staged as part of this festival in previous years. With his new play he ventures into the darker aspects of the grieving process, and from the very first scene he makes it clear that Nikolai is much more interested in assessing blame than seeking closure. It is a risky premise, for unsympathetic protagonists can prove unwieldy even in the hands of the most gifted playwright.
It is, of course, entirely possible to argue that revenge is in itself a way of seeking closure, albeit a rather primitive one. But when Geisinger, Nikolai’s therapist (played, along with a host of other characters, by the very capable Thusitha Jayasundera) suggests as much, Nikolai’s terse response is a not-exactly-very-introspective “Go to hell”. Which leaves the audience not just with a less-than-sympathetic character, but also with one incapable of any psychological insight. Koslov repeatedly dismisses his own therapist’s remarks as “Bullshit,” which begs the question: Why does he even go?
But while Mr. Wilkinson’s writing is fluid enough to allow us to question our own responses to his character – rather than narrowly focusing on his failures as a human being – this production does not serve such fluidity particularly well.
To begin with, Mr. Conlon’s Koslov doesn’t quite ever succeed in making us feel much real sorrow. His emotive range tends to be professionally efficient in the most confrontational scenes, but veers dangerously towards the melodramatic when attempting to portray a sense of loss. It is a classic case in which a “less is more approach” might have served the actor well and the play better, and Mr. Wilkinson, as the director, shares some of the responsibility for this shortcoming.
More dauntingly, the action takes place over a broad range of locales and across a span of several years, and at a pace much more suited to film or television than to the stage (Mr. Wilkinson is also the author of several short films). Within a few minutes we are taken from home to courtroom to office, with no meaningful scenic changes and sudden character shifts for Ms. Jayasundera, who given the circumstances, however, acquits herself remarkably well.
Over and over the actors must mimic the existence of props: a camera, headphones, a cloth, a cell phone. It is a tall order for any actor or director to rise to, and this production embarks on the challenge with rather mixed results.
It would be counterproductive to disclose here how Koslov’s revenge unfolds. It will suffice to say that he does succeed in moving past his own blind rage and create a new, productive life. Unforgiving of others to the extreme, and in spite of having become what he most despises, he absolves himself brilliantly of his own sins.
My Eyes Went Dark. Written and Directed by Matthew Wilkinson.
Starring Declan Conlon and Thusitha Jayasundera.
Set and costume design by Bethany Wells; lighting design by Elliot Griggs; sound design by Max Pappenheim; associate lighting designer, Chris Withers; associate sound designer, Richard Bell; AEA stage manager, Colin JB; associate producer, Padraig Cusack; Producer, Leo Mylonadis.