Theater archives

Richard Maxwell Directs Another Writer’s Play


Richard Maxwell has nearly perfect vision. He may need contact lenses to pass a DMV test or glasses to peruse a script, but his artistic optics are 20/20 or better. Even in his less successful endeavors—such as his famously unpopular Henry IV at BAM in 2003—you can’t fault the clarity of his gaze. Maxwell lends that lucidity to Christina Masciotti’s Vision Disturbance, a play about a middle-aged woman whose divorce occasions a bout of retinal distress. In other words: She can’t see straight.

But the play itself is quite precise and marks Maxwell’s first attempt at directing a contemporary work by an author other than himself. The similarities to his own oeuvre are considerable. Masciotti writes about luckless people—Mondo (the assured Linda Mancini), the woman with the eye trouble, and Dr. Hull (the wonderfully stolid Jay Smith), the ophthalmologist who attempts to cure her. Neither is particularly likable, yet both receive a full measure of authorial sympathy. In crafting these characters, Masciotti, like Maxwell, pays unusual attention to the particulars of language, especially in Mondo’s lines. Greek immigrant Mondo has a habit of mangling idioms: She refers to her ex-husband as “the scum of the dirt” and describes her situation as between “a rock and hell.”

Maxwell directs with his usual rich minimalism, opening a gulf between the characters’ extravagant emotions and their thrifty means of expressing them. Toward the play’s end, he supplies a marvelous coup de théâtre, with the aid of set and light designer Adrian W. Jones, which ratchets up the play’s pathos. These final moments, which focus sweetly and intently on the consolations of human connection, are truly a sight for sore eyes.