When his family die in an airplane crash, architect Nikolai is unable to cope with his grief. Refusing to accept that the accident was due to a simple error he directs his anger towards the air traffic controller, exacting his own revenge when the official channels see no reason to.
Loosely based on real events, Matthew Wilkinson’s new play is one full of potential. A compelling narrative, intelligent staging and two very good actors at the helm suggest that there is enough here for My Eyes Went Dark to be a runaway success, but the pacing lets it down. Granted, the beginning and end of the play are well-paced and, when he gets it right, Wilkinson’s storytelling ability is very engaging. It’s in the middle third, however, that the production goes through a bit of a lull. The storyline becomes quite predictable in this portion of the play, not helped by the fact that Wilkinson decides to linger on it.
What saves the play is its cast. Cal MacAninch and Thusitha Jayasundera are superb in two very different kinds of performances. As Nikolai, MacAninch goes through a transformation akin to the anti-hero journey seen in the likes of Breaking Bad. There is something menacing about the character from the very start, but MacAninch amps it up in short bursts as Nikolai becomes increasingly antagonistic. Jayasundera steals the show, though. Playing every other character in the piece, she flits effortlessly through a myriad of accents and personalities, without ever taking the shine away from MacAninch.
There may be some flaws in Wilkinson’s writing, but his direction is top-notch and it’s hard not to be wowed by just how good MacAninch and Jayasundera are. To keep the cast limited to just the two actors is a brave but successful decision, as is the decision to have no real set design beyond a couple of chairs. The result is an intense and claustrophobic ambience, which works brilliantly in the Traverse Theatre’s smaller space. Elliott Grigg’s lighting is sharp and concise, using spotlights as props or cramped spaces, but otherwise keeping the play in a dimness that mirrors the central character’s own psyche. Max Pappenheim adds to this, too, with a score that edges on the sinister.