Pitchblack Immersive Experiences
Last month I saw Simon Stephens’s Blindness at the Daryl Roth Theatre, a sound and light theatrical installation without actors in which the story about a sudden and inexplicable epidemic of sight loss is presented through binaural headphones in a space often cast in total darkness. A few weeks after that, I got on an airplane for the first time since the coronavirus crisis began, going to California to visit family. Those two elements come together in compelling ways in Odd Man Out, an immersive, interactive treat for the senses that arrives at your home in a box.
Originally performed with an in-person cast and audience at Teatro Ciego in Argentina, a company that specializes in productions in complete darkness, with nearly half of the troupe either blind or with low vision — the riveting sixty-five-minute presentation, which was workshopped in English in New York City in February 2020 in collaboration with theatreC, has been reimagined by writer-director Martín Bondone and codirectors Carlos Armesto and Facundo Bogarín for a unique private journey. Odd Man Out follows successful blind Argentine musician Alberto Rinaldi (Gonzalo Trigueros) as he flies on Pitchblack Airlines from New York City back to Buenos Aires, where he was born and raised. During the trip, his mind is flooded with memories of seminal moments from his life, involving his mother (Alejandra Buljevich) and father (Ignacio Borderes), his teacher (Buljevich), his music partner Jamal Jordan (Modesto Lacen), and his true love, Clara (Carmen Boria, who in addition voices Alberto as a child). The tale also features a taxi driver (Andrés Montejo), two policemen (Aksel Tang and Lacen), an attentive flight attendant (Boria), Alberto’s seatmate (Montejo), another passenger (Victoria Raigorodsky), and a parrot (Lacen).
The black box contains everything you need for this multisensory excursion: a map, a blindfold, a boarding pass with a QR code that takes you to the online audio, wine or yerba maté, and six mysterious objects that incorporate taste (chocolate, vegan, gluten-free, or coconut), touch, and smell. The narrative was recorded using binaural technology that makes it feel that the characters are moving around your head as if in a 360-degree area, a technique that was also used for Blindness and Simon McBurney’s remarkable Broadway show The Encounter. The sound design is by Nicolás Alvarez, with original music, arrangements, and music direction by Mirko Mescia — performed by pianist Lubert Andrés Pulval Jiménez, guitarist Roberto Ariel Caceres, and bassist Bogarín — and dramaturgy by Armesto and Tang.
Alberto talks about love, fear, discrimination, and music as the plane continues on to Argentina, where he hasn’t been in decades. These feelings and beliefs have come into much clearer focus during the pandemic, as the world sheltered in place, travel was limited if not nonexistent, isolation and loneliness ran rampant, and rallies and marches were held across the globe against racial injustice. Theater is best experienced with live actors in front of an in-person audience in the same space, yet Odd Man Out is just the right kind of show when that is not available, offering a compelling individual adventure for the body and the mind.
(A portion of the proceeds from Odd Man Out — boxes cost $50 — goes to Visions,which provides services for the blind and visually impaired.)