Reviews

Review: Odd Man Out Exemplifies Visionary Storytelling…Without Sight

Catch a plane to Buenos Aires without ever leaving Manhattan.

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Odd Man Out runs at the Sheen Center through August 11.
(image provided by the production)

Taking a flight in pitch-black darkness would require a leap of faith (and maybe even a hefty cocktail to calm the nerves) for many. Once you’ve attended Odd Man Out, you’ll be surprised by just how natural the unknown can feel when you ease yourself into another person’s point of view.

Conceived and developed by Martín Bondone and Buenos Aires-based theater company Teatro Ciego, the immersive play takes audiences on a trip through the life, memories, and perspective of Blind musician Alberto as you embark on a flight with him from New York City to Buenos Aires. Guided through all the senses but sight, audiences witness the world through Alberto’s mind, as he recalls his youth and his exile from his native country. He has been safely stranded  in New York City since…until now, as someone beckons him home.

Receiving a boarding pass as you as you enter Sheen Center’s Shiner Theatre, you are now booked on the next PitchBlack Airlines flight, entering a lobby-turned-airport-lounge equipped with electronic boarding signs and chairs that are—thankfully—much more comfortable than the ones you’d actually find at JFK. The bar is open for anyone looking for a beverage to ease any flight anxiety, which one could assume would be significantly worsened when your most constant sense is stripped from you You eventually shuffle into the unlit plane cabin in groups of four led by PitchBlack’s expert attendants, clinging onto the shoulders of the person in front of you.

In a welcome departure from other total-darkness plays of recent years, the trust fall into the abyss does not leave one feeling alone. Odd Man Out’s ensemble gently glide you through the psychological and emotional transition from sight to blindness, which takes around 20 minutes, offering plenty of time to adjust. Importantly, the production also offers an out to anyone who needs one – just speak up and you’ll be safely escorted back into the lounge, where you’ll receive a headset and eye mask to listen to the remainder of the show. For a story centering on disability, this production owns up to its creative pursuit with an accommodating, accessible approach.

But take it from me, someone with a near-debilitating fear of flying who still sleeps with fairy lights: no matter how jarring the loss of your sight may feel at first, you just might settle in and enjoy the ride as the opening scene plays out in your ears. Alberto (Pablo Drutman) converses with a passenger seated next to him, who is offering condolences for his condition–to which Alberto replies is not a hindrance. It’s just normal; his normal–and with every passing moment, it feels more natural for the audience, too, as the lack of sight becomes supplemented by the invigorating conversation unfolding.

Alberto spins tales from his youth painted by the boom-claps of subtropical thunderstorms and the splashes of swimming in lakes with giggling friends. Through his voice, and the commentary of the two eager listeners seated next to him, fellow passengers get to hear and feel (and even taste and smell, at times) him grow from odd kid out into the self-determined young adult he becomes, seeking a scholarship to music school in Manhattan with the support of his childhood best friend and eventual love Clara. Eventually, we meet the exiled man he is without her, when he has long departed from his country–struck by revolutionary war, where Clara is on the frontlines of resistance.

Every figure in Alberto’s life is alternated through the ensemble of six, masterfully chameleon-shifting into each persona from their speech down to their own unique footsteps. As echoed in our review of an at-home edition of the work: you would have no idea that Drutman is decades younger than the character he is playing. The same applies for the rest of the cast, who will truly leave you astonished when you discover how many different voices came from just one performer. Equally impressive is the entirely invisible design.

Once you’ve arrived in Buenos Aires, your sight is returned, and the first thing your eyes land upon are youe fellow passengers. Empanadas are served in the lounge, where faces that were unfamiliar just a couple of hours ago are now mingling like friends. The line blurring between play and reality feels like the most remarkable part of the experience.

Perhaps in the very fulfillment of theater’s greatest mission, Odd Man Out promises one unifying, shared experience for everyone who attends, on levels both physical and empathetic. It begs mentioning that this play has returned to New York City just in time for Disability Pride Month, and whether you are looking for the next game-changer in immersive theater or seeking to immerse yourself into an authentic, informed representation of a life different from your own, you will certainly depart from this flight enlightened.

 

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Odd Man Out

Final performance: August 11, 2024