Theater review by Helen Shaw
In 2002, two planes collided over a town in southern Germany. Among the casualties were the wife and children of a Russian man named Vitaly Kaloyev, who, two years later, tracked down the responsible air traffic controller and stabbed him to death. After serving three years in prison, Kaloyev returned to his native Ossetia where he was hailed as a hero: According to an account in Pravda, youth groups cheered him and waved signs at the airport, including one that said, “You are the real man.”
All this awfulness is true. That fact may affect how much you want to see writer-director Matthew Wilkinson's barely fictionalized account of it, My Eyes Went Dark, a fragmented and disturbing two-hander on tour from the U.K.. The play is upsetting for its content, of course: It begins with a man finding his four-year-old daughter's body, as Kaloyev actually did, and only a stone would be unmoved. But Wilkinson's use of these events is troubling, particularly since he ends his drama on a sudden note of sentimental uplift for the killer, with a soaring soundtrack and heavenly overhead light.
Declan Conlon plays the grieving father—called Koslov rather than Kaloyev here—and the superb, chameleonic Thusitha Jayasundera plays everybody else, whether hysterical auntie, steely investigator, slippery air-traffic administrator or weeping child. The two performers stalk each other up and down a tiny alleyway between two banks of seats, so we're painfully close to their screaming and anguish. Wilkinson's precise ear for dialogue makes his succession of brief scenes convincing, and My Eyes Went Dark has power as a high-intensity acting showcase. But there's too little analysis of the mechanisms of revenge and forgiveness. Instead, the play offers intense, histrionic moments that we thrill to as voyeurs, not as thinkers. Actual grief and actual murder are repurposed for our dark entertainment, and there's something ugly in that.
59E59 Theaters (Off-Off Broadway). Written and directed by Matthew Wilkinson. With Declan Conlon and Thusitha Jayasundera. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission. Through July 2.
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