As the house for Odd Man Out opens, the audience is ushered in as though boarding a plane. Attendees with wrist bands are boarded first, treated like First Class, which is ultimately a wink from the production, because seating arrangements make absolutely no difference whatsoever when everyone is going to be blindfolded.
Seated in socially distanced chairs facing a projector wall, the audience members are given earphones, blindfolds, and instructed to put on both and adjust the volume as needed.
Thus begins this radio play about Alberto, an elderly blind man flying home to Buenos Aires after having lived for years in New York City as a musician. The audience experiences Alberto’s flight, as well as flashbacks of his life, as he does–without sight–with only his remaining senses.
Some immediate observations come to mind upon attending a theatrical event blindfolded:
Technical alignment is critical. Much of the beginning dialogue was not heard because the earphone volume was too low. It took this viewer almost ten minutes to find the obscurely hidden volume control, and although he called out for assistance as instructed and even raised his hand repeatedly, no one came to assist. It would be ideal to show the audience members where the volume controls are before the play begins.
This technicality aside, there’s much more to observe about this sightless production.
Without seeing the different actors’ faces, an ordinarily sighted audience cannot as easily discern when different characters are speaking, since their ears are not expertly attuned by a life of blindness to pick up subtle vocal differences. Praise must be given to the well-written script by Martín Bondone, who placed character names, exposition, and other references carefully within the dialogue, helping the listener put the people and places together with the voices and sounds in Alberto’s life.
Without the benefit of sight, one must strain to listen more closely in order to understand the events of the play; footsteps, cane taps, ball bounces, far off music, distant voices and other incidental sounds make much more of an impact in the story, sounds that would have held less significance when simply watching a play. The original music by Mirko Mescia sounds even more beautiful when listened to without visual distraction, including a notably gorgeous guitar piece played by Roberto Ariel Cáceres during an especially transporting interlude. All told, the binaural sound design by Nicolas Álvarez was robust and inventive, providing an amazing, three-dimensional sound experience of Alberto’s world.
The audience isn’t just treated to sounds to fill the gaps of sight. Smells of coffee, tangerines, and celery soup waft by when such things are mentioned, and drops of water are felt in relevant moments. These visceral layers greatly enhanced the experience of this production.
Beyond the technical prowess which makes this unique experience what it is, we have the story itself. Bondone’s carefully constructed tale, along with the skillful direction he shares with Facundo Bogaríin and Carlos Armesto, weaves the past and present together in a seamless, effective tapestry of a life in reflection; Alberto’s memories of his childhood, the loss of his sweetheart Clara to the political unrest in Buenos Aires, the prejudice, racism and classism he faced in the 70’s and finally a bittersweet reunion are all beautifully unfolded in this poignant play.
The sage and subtly passionate voice of present-day Alberto is expertly read by Gonzalo Trigueros. Alejandra Buljevich is endearing and colorful as Doña Elsa, as well as Alberto’s mother, and Modesto Lacen’s host of characters including Alberto’s important friend in music Jamal is worthy of mention. The entire cast deserves praise for its sincere and dedicated readings. A most touching revelation about the actors’ involvement comes after the show is over and the blindfolds are removed; the audience is treated to a post-show video where the actors and artistic staff speak of the experience of creating and participating in this distinctive production. Their candor and devotion are felt by all, some of whom are actually blind themselves.
Odd Man Out is to be felt and heard; it is a refreshing, interactive, unique theatrical experience for the heart and for the senses.
Odd Man Out (through December 4, 2021)
The Flea Theater, 20 Thomas Street between Broadway and Church Street
For information and tickets visit https://oddmanoutnyc.com/
Running time: 65 minutes without an intermission