I Can See Clearly Now (The Wheelchair on My Face) written and performed by Sonya Kelly and directed by Gina Moxley is a myopia memoir romp. The approximately hourlong production reaches peaks of “LOL” comedy – and of sad poignancy, if one scratches deeper to understand an obvious theme: the adult world can be oblivious to the perceptions and needs of children.
Kelly is good-natured and humorously ironic about her extreme childhood nearsightedness and the foibles of school professionals and parents who were too shortsighted themselves to notice that she was very nearly legally blind. What other individuals could see clearly at 200 feet, Sonya had to be practically on top of to identify.
The production begins with an appropriate song playing in the background and Sonya, using hyperbole, pantomimes the behaviors of someone who is blind. Her pantomime coupled with the irony of the song’s lyrics is a revelation. The effect is tragic-comic. This prologue is a counterpoint to her very verbal solo show which is poetically and sharply written. Indeed the song and pantomime go a long way to soften the audience and bend it toward empathy and understanding of what is to follow.
To Kelly’s credit her approach toward her former disability is levelheaded. She is following the trend of those in the disability community who have come to despise the media’s typical “inspirational story” approach to the disabled. Her childhood remembrances never default to the maudlin, self-pitying or “inspirational.” With irony she humorously describes some of the more brutal lapses of adults in not “getting” her near blindness, and she presents word paintings of their paradoxical behavior with a broad, non-judgmental tone. Likewise, she shows the callous reactions of her classmates or school personnel to her inability to see with masterful timing and choice delivery to evoke the comedy inherent in the situation, which she renders for us to “see” with straightforward clarity.
Her unique take on and acute description of her visually fuzzy view of her home environs, relatives, friends and time at school leave us continually chortling and guffawing. As we laugh, Kelly subtly reveals an important message. Seeing what is unseeable (as she cleverly did before her extreme myopia was diagnosed and corrected) offers its own value in perfecting skills that a normally seeing child would never develop. It is a lesson easily and enjoyably learned from this comedian who has learned to master both worlds, that of vision and that of myopia, brilliantly.
I Can See Clearly Now (The Wheelchair on My Face) is being presented by Fishamble: The New Play Company at 59E59 until September 29. The production was a Fringe First Award Winner for 2012 and is part of Origin’s 1st Irish festival.