Shakespeare Theatre Company reopens with pandemic-themed show ‘Blindness’

Shakespeare Theatre Company presents “Blindness.” (Courtesy Shakespeare Theatre)
WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Shakespeare Theatre's 'Blindness' (Part 1)

Shakespeare Theatre Company reopens Saturday after a year of pandemic closure.

It fittingly returns with “Blindness,” a unique sensory production about a pandemic.

“It’s been a long journey back, but I’m thrilled we’re opening our doors,” Artistic Director Simon Godwin told WTOP. “The safety protocols are robust. We have a special waiver from the mayor to be able to open safely. We can’t wait to start sharing our stories again.”

Based on Nobel winner José Saramago’s novel and adapted by Simon Stephens (“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”), the show follows “the story of a pandemic of blindness that hits a city, and how the folks living in that city navigate the challenges of this pandemic and ultimately come through it with a new hope,” Godwin said.

Originally mounted by Donmar Warehouse in London, the actor-less show is limited to 40 guests inside Sidney Harman Hall, where masked audiences sit socially distanced.

“You come in, you sit down and put on freshly sanitized headphones and you step into a light and sound world,” Godwin said. “You close your eyes; you plunge into darkness; you’re listening on your headphones and you really feel like you’re in a completely different world. … Lights move up and down. … It’s totally transporting.”

Walter Meierjohann directs a truly immersive sound and light experience, and the light and sound teams at STC have been working for months on the installation, Godwin said.

The narration is recorded by Olivier Award-winning actress Juliet Stevenson.

“The presence of Juliet Stevenson feels so close to you that you can almost feel her breathing,” Godwin said. “She’s not actually there, but my goodness, it feels like she is.”

The show runs about 70 minutes with no intermission, “yet he’s condensed this novel brilliantly, so it feels like an incredibly rich, fulfilling and deep journey into this narrative. But it’s done in a very pithy and punchy and impactful way,” Godwin said.

As you emerge from the show, it’s a metaphor for us emerging from the pandemic.

“Existentially, we’ve all been blinded by these traumatic 12 months,” Godwin said. “We’ve all been confined to our homes, we’ve all had our vistas reduced, we’ve all been looking at lower horizons. … This story of people living through literal blindness but [who] come out on the other side seeing differently is an amazing metaphor.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Shakespeare Theatre's 'Blindness' (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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