Monday, June 9, 2014

Blink: See and Be Seen

L-R: Lizzie Watts and Thomas Pickles in BLINK,  Photo Ludovic Des Cognets
When loneliness causes you to believe you are starting to vanish can a stranger's gaze save you?

Blink is an unexpectedly intense story of loss and connection, dressed in the soft gauze of a romance. Without giving away the unusual charm of this play by Phil Porter, this story may feel like it is following a Hollywood quirky rom-com playbook, but it's not. The play has a unique, beat and pulse.

Sophie (Lizzy Watts) is living in London with her father when he passes away.  Jonah (Thomas Pickles) is living on a "a farm. Or self-sufficient religious commune to be specific," when his mother dies. Their journeys happen in coincidental parallels but their romance unfurls in the most unexpected way.

*SPOILER*

As things start to go downhill for Sophie, in a moment of desperation, she sends out a symbolic flare into the universe and Jonah heeds the call. Sophie mails a baby monitor to Jonah with a small video screen on it.  They've never met.  He doesn't even know who she is or where she lives.  But he turns on the monitor and Sophie's turned on the camera.  Jonah becomes transfixed by her and her quotidian existence. And an intimacy is created through this one-way mirror. Sophie needs to be seen. And Jonah sees her.  He watches and feels connected to her. But the startling aspect is how one-sided it is. She cannot see him.  Though they both are gaining something they need, they don't need the same things.


I found myself thinking about the play for days after.  As unusual as the plot device is, I found it not so strange. It made me think about social media and how we put pieces of ourselves out into the world and we're not always looking for that person to boomerang back to us.

I do a weekly podcast (you should listen). Total strangers listen which I still find odd.  They know things about me through the podcast. They hear me whispering in their ear as they ride the subway or walk down the street.  And after a lifetime of feeling invisible, a little visibility feels good. But if they showed up on my doorstep I'd be freaked out.  Much like fans and the object of their affections, performer may expose them-self through their art but a mutual bond is not formed. The fan may perceive an attachment--a connection, and it is a real connection--but it's not happening for both parties.


We open our lives to people in some ways and not others.  I think of social media as "living out loud" sometimes. But even if it's real it's a small part of who I am.  There are volumes left unspoken.  In many ways it is a false sense of intimacy.  And in others it is exactly the hand reaching through the screen to reassure you that you still exist.

Here in Blink, Sophie staves off her invisibility by sending the monitor.  Jonah fills his days with her and finally has a purpose. The subversive nature of Blink is that despite this inherently unbalanced connection, there is a romance here. A coupling.  But it is borne out of anxiety, sadness, and loneliness.

Recently I saw Thomas Pickles in his fascinating one-man show, Dead Party Animals at the Hope Theatre in London, which he wrote and starred in. With a tendency to be childlike and oddball in equal measure in Blink, he embodies the curiosity and strangeness of Jonah. Lizzy Watts, it seemed to me, had the harder job of convincing you that she's of the world and yet has started to fall outside the lines of it.  Without drifting into quirkiness for quirky sake, she delivers on that.  Joe Murphy's (Incognito) direction gives an inventive flair to the material but again keeps everything on the right side of twee.

I think it is easy to dismiss Blink if you aren't paying attention.  It's not flashy.  With a woozy 3-D forest set (by Hannah Clark) that at times made me feel like I was walking through the looking-glass (no complaint it works to throw you off balance and appropriately make you distrust what you see) and DIY touches (music on a tape deck, a green carpet that doubles as indoors and outdoors), it's awfully quiet. But in that quiet is the sound of fear, despair, loneliness, and grief.  And that's where the beating heart of this wonderful little play lies.


I received complementary tickets to this production.

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