Theater by the Blind
Artistic Directors George Ashiotis and Ike Schambelan
Written and Performed by LYNN MANNING
Links: www.tbtb.org, www.lynnmanning.com
January 9 – February 1, 2004 at Urban Stages, NYC
Directed by ROBERT EGAN
Sound Design, Musical Direction & Live Accompaniment GARY BERGMAN
Designer & Stage Manager STEVEN WHITE
Production Manager MARTIN GRAVES
Press Representative MARK CANNISTRARO
The challenge behind any one-person show, as these are without fail (and without exception, in my experience) monologues about the writer/performer, is to have lived a life that can be made interesting to a neutral third party, to be a writer skilled enough to turn even the most mundane of experiences into gripping theatrical fare, and to be an actor who can convey the events and the words effectively. For the first time, when faced with Lynn Manning, and his autobiographical WEIGHTS, I find that the usual criteria are beside the point. His life is full of so many extraordinary events that what Mr. Manning has had to do is make his tales relatable to a mass audience. No small task, I assure you, but one that he has more than mastered.
Lynn Manning was shot and blinded when he was 23 in a ridiculous bar brawl, but when he tells his personal tale, that night of change seems like just another in a series of battles to be won and challenges to be conquered. As Mr. Manning tells us in the course of WEIGHTS, his mother had nine children by the time she was 29. She battled alcohol and several men, and ended up losing her children to the system. Even so, she kept in touch, and was there to help her son in the first months after he lost his sight. As a child, Manning faced fear, uncertainty, hunger and the loss of his home. He never lost his inner strength and spirit though.
Lynn Manning had dreamed of being a painter. In his youth, years before the incident that took his sight, he realized that the worst thing that could happen to a visual artist was to go blind. So, he planned ahead, by deciding upon a fallback career, and by practicing doing things with his eyes closed. Sadly prophetic, his admittedly Murphy’s Law philosophy ultimately led him to handle the life-altering experience he had at the tender age of 23 in a way that puzzled doctors, friends and family alike. Within weeks of the shooting, as recounted in vivid detail in WEIGHTS, Manning was ready to move on, adapt and grow. He was ready to excel as a writer, his backup plan, and he certainly has. He has made his fantastic story one that we can all relate to by sharing his rebirth, if you will, as a person with altered senses. He speaks of mundane difficulties, like re-learning to use the toilet, and beautifully personal moments, like making love for the first time when his greatest guide was touch. He speaks of many firsts. He rents an apartment of his own, learns to navigate the streets, to deal with money, and cope with the unsolicited kindness of strangers. Through it all, we, the captive audience, hang on every word.
It is Lynn Manning’s ability to succeed, to not feel sorry for himself, and to not play the victim that resonates in WEIGHTS. He remains political and socially astute as he tells his tale. He poignantly notes that, as a blind man who also happens to be a black man, when he goes out onto the street, at the first sight of his walking stick he immediately turns from "White man’s burden to every man’s burden." People try to help, the street corner religious zealots pray for him, and Lynn Manning just keeps on keeping on.
WEIGHTS is recommended viewing. It is purely adult material in terms of content and dialogue, but it is full of lessons that all of us should learn. Lynn Manning, by virtue of who he is and what he does, is motivational. He has created a monologue that is intriguing, engaging, and purely inspirational. Would that we all had such a will to persevere. The world would be a different place.
- Kessa De Santis -