Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Mind's Eye: A Review

Imagine getting stuck in heavy traffic, your skin turned sticky caused by the combination of sweat, dust, and smoke. The sweltering heat and the humid Manila air are of no help at all. You try to make yourself more comfortable by adjusting your sitting position, only to realize that there's no room for you to move in because the driver assured everybody that his jeep could seat twenty people. Judging by the location where you're currently at and by the snail's pace this trip is going, you estimate another thirty minutes of this same situation. You're utterly bored. You left your iPod at home, your smartphone's battery is flashing a red 3% and you can't possibly spark up a conversation with the person next to you because she seems irritated that her arm is adhering to yours as if that is your fault. If there were another way to spend your precious time than mindlessly looking at the static vehicles, you probably would have taken it.

A similar problem of wanting to escape an inconvenient situation is what drives the story of the play, Mind's Eye. But unlike our imagined scenario of getting stuck in a crowded jeep for the next thirty minutes, the protagonists in this story are to spend the rest of their lives in a convalescent room, with no more family to visit them and no more view of the world outside except through their room's window.

The play revolves on two women: Elva, an 88-year-old former literature and drama teacher who is gradually losing her sight; and Courtney, a 16-year-old girl who became paralyzed from the waist down after a horse riding accident. When Courtney was admitted to the convalescent home where she became roommates with Elva, the former teacher tried to initiate a conversation with the young girl by reciting poems and asking her if she knew any. Courtney, however, was still bitter about the new path her life is taking and paid little attention to Elva's speeches. But Elva was persistent, even bordering on being insensitive, and kept telling Courtney stories and asking her questions until she came to the point of offering Courtney a means to travel despite her condition. Through reading an old travel guide, they could embark on an imaginary trip to Italy! The young girl was strongly against the idea, skeptic as to how they could do it only by reading. It is when Elva admits the reason why she terribly wants to go to an imaginary trip to Italy is for her to fulfill a promise she made to her deceased husband, and how her failing eyesight has prevented her to do so, that finally convinced Courtney to at least give it a try.

Mind's Eye is a play that recognizes the power of the human mind and the importance of our knowledge on literature, poetry and the arts as tools to the process of imagining. As Elva put it, "the mind is like a pantry; each book or poem read is another jar on the shelf." Through reading literature and appreciation of the arts, we begin to view the world in a different perspective and experience life in a richer way. In some instances, these may even offer us escape from our grim realities, just as the two main characters did. The power of imagination, however, must be guided because it could be as destructive as it is beneficial.

The main challenge for the play was how Elva, played by veteran theater actress Joy Virata, and Courtney, portrayed by talented Jenny Jamora, were to take their journey and how they will bring along the audience with them. The set for the entire play remains unchanged, only relying on the dialogues to propel the story. The lighting and effective sound effects also helped set up the mood, but what made the scenes affecting were really to the credit of the thespians' brilliant acting and the beautiful words of the script. My personal favorites, which perfectly captured the beauty of words complemented by the vivacity of imagery, were the heartwarming recollections of Elva of her husband Emmett and Courtney’s imagined encounter with an enigmatic “Edward” on a train to Florence. As each character details her personal journey—either the way Elva leans her head on Emmet’s shoulder while he recites a love poem then kisses her hair, or the moving images as seen from the train’s window as Courtney finally understood what Elva meant about finding love again however bleak the future may seem—the audience only has to listen intently, even close his eyes for maximum effect, and it will be enough for him to be transported with them too. Mind's Eye was based on the novel of the same title, written entirely in dialogue, by award-winning author Paul Fleischman. This theatrical adaptation, staged for a re-run this year, was directed by Jaime del Mundo.

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