|L-R: Declan Conlon and Thusitha Jayasundera in MY EYES WENT DARK. Photo by Carol Rosegg.|
Declan Conlon and Thusitha Jayasundera deliver two of the most outstanding performances in any of the several plays that comprise this year’s Brits Off Broadway program at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan. As Nikolai Koslov, a Russian architect who is driven obsessively to wreak vengeance upon Thomas Olsen, the air traffic controller whom he holds responsible for the death of his wife and children in an avoidable plane crash, Conlon performs with a cold, single-minded intensity that effectively succeeds in blurring the distinction between madness and sanity. And in the role of Nikloai’s wife, Marya Koslov, as well as in the demanding roles of a whole host of other female characters who interact with Nikolai – including Katya (an eight year old girl), Dr. Geisinger (a trained psychiatrist), Helena (Thomas Olsen’s widow), Ms Weitner (an executive with Skyways, the air traffic control company that employed Olsen), and Yana (a woman who also lost her son in the plane crash) – Jayasundera displays an absolutely extraordinary range of acting talent.
My Eyes Went Dark, written and directed by Matthew Wilkinson, is an ambitious two-hander, inspired by true events, that played to sold-out audiences in London and Edinburgh and is currently enjoying its US premiere at 59E59 Theaters. It is the tale of Nikolai Koslov, whose family died in a plane crash while en route to visit him in Nice. As the facts emerge, it appears that the crash was not the result of terrorism nor mechanical failure nor pilot error, but rather was the consequence of misfeasance by Thomas Olsen, an air traffic controller with Skyways. Clearly, Olsen and Skyways were at fault and should be held responsible, but are they morally or legally culpable as well for what was surely an honest mistake?
For Koslov the answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” and when Olsen is acquitted of criminal liability, Koslov is pushed to the breaking point. Ultimately, he avenges the deaths of his wife and children by killing Olsen – but without premeditation and with no subsequent recollection of the event. Which leads us to ask: if Olsen is not morally or legally responsible for the deaths he caused without premeditation and through honest human error, should Koslov be held morally or legally responsible for Olsen’s death which he caused without premeditation and, indeed, without even any memory of the event?
The playwright alludes to these questions but never resolves them and doesn’t even really pursue them with any persistence. Similarly, he suggests that Koslov’s intense animosity toward Olsen might have been motivated as much by his own guilt feelings at having created a situation in which his family had to fly to visit him in Nice in the first place as it was by a truly objective indictment of Olsen’s behavior. He raises the issue of whether Koslov was sane or insane when he killed Olsen and what difference that might make in determining his guilt or innocence. And he alludes to all the standard PC issues re forgiveness, acceptance, and getting on with one’s life.
Wilkinson touches on all those matters but never really seriously addresses them and that is the play’s weakness. My Eyes Went Dark turns out not to be particularly intellectually challenging, despite the questions it raises, because once raising them it doesn’t really do anything more with them. The premise of the play is a valid one but the play itself could use a lot more editing and fleshing out.
And so my bottom line is this: the play itself is somewhat disappointing but the actors’ performances are phenomenal and those performances alone are justification enough for your seeing this one.