Look but don't touch.
There's a quirky and charming love story playing at 59E59 Theaters as part of the Brits Off Broadway festival. Phil Porter's Blink is worth your time as much for the unusual tale it tells as for the delightful performances of its two actors, Thomas Pickles and Lizzy Watts. At a modest 75 minutes, this comical, sensitively written play satisfies with its clever examination of a pair of sweethearts who love each other better when they're apart.
Shy Jonah (Pickles) enjoys taking apart old-fashioned cameras and dissecting rabbit eyeballs. Equally shy Sophie (Watts) lives in a two-floor London flat with her tax-lawyer father and works at a software company. After her father dies, Sophie loses her job because, according to her employer, she lacks "visibility." Luckily her father left her a small inheritance and the two-floor flat. When Jonah lets the first floor through a rental agency, Sophie anonymously sends him a remote baby-monitor screen so that he can watch her. At first he has no idea where this mysterious woman lives, but he enjoys watching and she enjoys being watched. Eventually he discovers Sophie's whereabouts (upstairs), and they begin dating oh so awkwardly until an accident lands Sophie in the emergency room, an event that tests the tenuous bonds of their relationship.
Porter's story of voyeuristic lovers has none of the salacious scenes you might expect. It's sweet to the core but never cloying. His smart, engaging dialogue avoids the potential sentimental pitfalls of romantic comedy. There's always the sense that these two characters, similar as they are, might be just a bit too withdrawn to make their oddball relationship work. But watching them try is a joy. Porter also richly creates his characters by blending dozens of comical details with delicate insights that reveal each character's charming idiosyncrasies. There's a bittersweet quality that underlies it all. "Love is whatever you feel it to be," says Jonah as he watches Sophie through the monitor. For these two tentative lovers, those words could mean hope or resignation — maybe both.
Joe Murphy enhances the script with some clever stage direction. Just as Jonah and Sophie communicate through a baby monitor, Pickles and Watts portray other characters by speaking into microphones — a trenchant commentary on how technology channels human communication now more than ever. And by having the actors rearrange the props throughout the play during scene changes (set designed by Hannah Clark), and then returning everything to its precise arrangement at the end, we feel like we've been on a journey with these two characters. The familiar set resonates with new associations and memories after watching these lovers as voyeuristically as they watch each other.
The play's greatest appeal, though, lies with its two actors. Pickles' deadpan performance heightens the charm of Jonah's painful awkwardness, as though he's completely befuddled by everything that happens to him until he's forced to take action. Watts is positively charming as Sophie. Her unaffected acting style blends naturally into Sophie's quietly confused character. Together these two have an endearing chemistry that makes you root for them and their unusual relationship. Blink makes you believe that sometimes just knowing someone's there is enough.