In Melanie Marnich’s Blur, Dot, a 17-year-old girl, starts going blind. Our plucky young hero faces the gathering dark and finds love.
Well, no. No exactly.
She faces the gathering dark, kicking and screaming like an angry baby. She finds love because she’s a teen bubbling with hormones and that’s what they do. Her coming-of-age story just happens to coincide with her gahhhh-I’m going-blind story.
There are touching moments, but no sentimental moments.
Blur could’ve easily turned into Butterflies are Free for the new millennium, but Marnich resisted the temptation. It’s harsh where it could’ve been mushy. It asks hard questions and gives no easy answers.
Marnich writes in poetic language about a realistic situation.(There’s even a realistic explanation for the poetic dialog. Like Gena Rowlands character in A Woman Under the Influence, Mom is shooting out Shizophrenic word salad. Her daughter inherits her whacky tendencies.)
The playwright sticks to the particular. Isn’t all blind people; this is just Dot's story, not a universal story.
At first, Dot takes it badly. She says hurtful things like "I wish you were blind” to her mother; she rejects her mother for lying about passing on the genetic trait; she assaults her supportive friends.
There’s a philosophical question, but the playwright leaves it on the back burner. You know: WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE?
WHY WOULD GOD DO THAT TO THIS NICE GIRL?
The playwright refers to the hard questions obliquely. The charming priest (who becomes a charming, defrocked homeless priest) obviously wrestles with the question. He’s the theological elephant in the room.
The play's improbable ending reminds me of Places of the Heart. Everybody comes together. Dot creates a community, comprising herself, her boyfriend, the defrocked priest and the lesbian. This commune of the saints in a New York City walkup isn't exactly realistic, but I think the playwright has earned the ending by digging in her heels and refusing to let her character be universal. Dot isn’t all blind people. We assume others who go blind jump off buildings, or do greater things, or just muddle through. Blur just happens to be Dot's story. She’s blind because she’s blind. It’s bad luck and this is how she deals with it.
As words on a page, the script ain’t exactly a yuck a minute. The tone is up for grabs. Director Barbara Redmond went for a comic tone —a matter of timing, emphasis and staging. The sets are minimal and whacky. The scenes are announced with actors striding across the stage holding signs (like Wile E. Coyote) labeled “THE PIER” or “THE ZOO" and occasionally walkling into walls. Another director could’ve taken the material and done something heavily heavy to it. This is clearly comedy tonight, which is fine by me. The material is hard to take as it is.