The One-Eyed Man is King | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The One-Eyed Man is King


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The One-Eyed Man is King, Pegasus Players. H.G. Wells's "The Country of the Blind" charts the misadventures of Nunez, a mountaineer who tumbles into a hidden vale peopled by a race sightless for 14 generations. He thinks he'll rule here, but his furious attempts to describe sight only convince the people he's insane. Their other senses are so evolved they're almost his match, and their numbers render his perceptual edge moot; rather than king, Nunez becomes an utterly dependent outcast. When he falls in love, the price of acceptance is cruelly logical: to cure his "madness" he must sacrifice his "diseased" eyes.

Nunez's attempts to force his worldview on an independent society are no more brutal than the society's denial of what it can't understand. Metaphorically, sight represents imperialist arrogance; less metaphorically, it represents a truth that transcends cultural myopia.

Playwright Carter W. Lewis weaves Wells's tale into his story of a blind cat burglar, Bendalli, and the emotionally withdrawn woman he attempts to rob. Caught on his first try, Bendalli returns nightly, and a relationship flourishes; snippets of Wells's fable, delivered by Bendalli's father, provide an allegorical frame. This prosaic device might work on the page, but onstage the crosscutting eventually saps dramatic momentum. Still, the play's exploration of what blindness feels like, and what it signifies to the sighted, is fascinating, and the actors attack Lewis's abstractions with remarkable poise. Jack Magaw's gorgeous set is a constant reminder of the wonders denied the blind.

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