In its U.S. premiere directed by Joe Murphy, Phil Porter’s Blink is a love story that warps the themes “love is blind” and “the course of true love never did run smoothly” to the point of hyperbole.
Characters Jonah (the appropriately deadpan Thomas Pickles) and Sophie (a humorously winsome Lizzy Watts) come from unusual backgrounds. They find each other and fall in love in a quirky series of events that are surreal, fantastical yet somehow logical. But after they couple and move in together, the outcome is anything but traditional. Porter evolves a denouement that is paradoxically open-ended and closed. How he effects the characters’ peculiar relationship and explores pushing the nature of love beyond conventional parameters is humorous and unsettling.
In monologues directed to the audience, Sophie and Jonah each tell us about themselves and discuss how they met, fell in love and conduct their relationship. Jonah tells us he was brought up on a self-sustaining farm under the mores of a strict Presbyterian family that doesn’t embrace modernism or assimilate with the community. When at age 15 he loses his mother to pancreatic cancer, he becomes the night watchman for his father. For five years he secures the farm, preventing destructive attacks by community locals who despise the weirdo group and target a member who supplants his kind, favored mother.
Jonah becomes entrenched in this sentinel routine until he is able to break away after discovering a letter his mom has left for him. The letter adjures him to make his own life and includes directions to a money stash she has saved up for him alone. Her sacrifice allows Jonah the freedom to “be his own man.” He moves to London where he rents a flat and attempts to stretch beyond the delineation of his isolated, withdrawn and ascetic upbringing.
The building he moves into is owned by Sophie. Like Jonah she has just inherited wealth. Hers has come from her father who, like Jonah’s mom, has died from pancreatic cancer. Intrigued by her renter and extremely lonely and afraid of her inability to be “present” or a part of life, Sophie mails Jonah a video screen which hooks up to a camera in her apartment and which specifically is pointed to follow her activities. This invitation to watch is irresistible to Jonah because of his former routines.
Porter has left clues about Sophie’s need to be watched; she has an intense and obsessive desire to counteract her fear that she is invisible to others. Indeed, when she looks at herself in the mirror, she appears to be fading into nothing. Porter uses this to represent many traits about her character: her inability to solidify her identity; her inability to touch others and connect with them in a meaningful way; her inability to make a difference and be acknowledged in the larger world. She must be observed to be real.
Thus, through the eye of the camera lens and the screen that portray a small slice of reality, Jonah and Sophie have found each other and apprehend an important aspect of their existences. The additional theme about our desire to be watched and watch others via Youtube, Instagram, etc. is very obvious. Jonah is comfortable with his secret voyeurism and Sophie is comfortable visually communicating without having to acknowledge her voyeur. Neither of them considers what they are doing weird or unseemly.
They are content with the entertainment, but initially we are puzzled and find their closed reactions isolating and opaque. It is due to Murphy’s creditable direction and the convincing, fervent performances by Pickles and Watts that we become endeared to this quirky couple and suspend any suspicion that Jonah may be stalking Sophie for prurient reasons and that Sophie possibly is a sexual tease. Another reason we accept their strangeness is that the acts Jonah observes Sophie perform via video are harmless, e.g. biting into an apple, etc. Besides, they are at her discretion and encouragement.
By this point Porter has reinforced without criticism of his protagonists that “it takes all kinds of people to make up our universe.” If no one is harmed, then it’s OK: “To each his own.” On the other hand, this lighthearted tone increases our anticipation and suspense about whether we have misread these characters and perceived them to be more harmless than they are.
Thus begins a slow intensification toward the eventual live interaction between the objectified and the objectifier. Porter evolves their actual, physical, face-to-face meeting when Sophie is in an accident. Jonah saves her and nurses her back to health from her comatose state. As Sophie improves under Jonah’s daily care, their relationship grows into a type of love with which we are familiar and can identify: they graduate from their interior isolation of weird voyeurism and become a “normal” couple. Their love blooms into a sexual relationship and they affirm the perfect picture of life and health. However, Porter is setting us up for a plot and conflict gyration: will this couple be able to overcome their past behaviors and desires to fit into conventions of love? Should they?
At the play’s conclusion, Porter brilliantly smashes our expectations and wrestles with our stereotyped assumptions about love and relationships. At the very end the play’s themes approach the philosophical truism that as all humans are unique so is the found love between two individuals even more unique; it is not only incomprehensible, it therefore cannot be judged logically.
Porter intimates that one reason love relationships often don’t work or last in our culture is that our society’s mores and folkways about relationships are actually warped and artificial and we are trying to live our lives according to their strictures. Love in all its uniqueness between and among the individuals who love should not be aligned with any expectations of a “perfect union.” This perhaps will be unsettling for those who are afraid not to live by the traditions of love.
The irony of course is that such conventions have little to do with a daily relationship, of the care and concern, the moodiness, the problems, the negligence, and the ongoing issues between those who are together.
In Blink (a twist on “now you see it, now you don’t”), Porter expands our understanding of what may be possible when two individuals decide it is worth it to forgive, help and love one another based on their own individual attitudes. He posits that we each must define our boundaries of love and of how to love and have a relationship. If we steer clear of the culture’s artificial notions, we will be wiser and happier.
Blink, a part of Brits Off Broadway, will be at 59E59 Theaters until June 29.