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A Show You Can Hear, Smell, Taste and Touch, But Not See

By: Gerard Raymond
Date: Jul 11, 2024
Off-Broadway

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Why Odd Man Out invites audiences to experience its evocative story in total darkness

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When's the last time you went to the theatre and couldn't see a thing? That's a hallmark of Odd Man Out, an immersive show that unfolds in complete blackness while stimulating your other senses: sound, touch, smell, even taste. Running Off Broadway at the Sheen Center through August 11, it's the tale of Alberto, a blind Argentinian musician who fled to New York, found success and is returning to his homeland after decades in exile. Audiences learn all about his life as they accompany him on the trip back and experience the journey as he does: without sight.

Created by Teatro Ciego, an innovative, Buenos Aires-based company that specializes in theatre performed in complete darkness, the production features 360-degree sound design along with specially crafted fragrances and nibbles. Speaking through an interpreter, co-director Facundo Bogarín, a blind Argentinian artist, explains that this aesthetic aims to "activate the imagination," and was developed to "accentuate and make all of your other senses acute."

Odd Man Out has been kicking around in various incarnations for many years, including an at-home audio version released during the pandemic and a brief NYC engagement at The Flea in fall 2021, just as theatres were reopening after the shutdown. For this English-language mounting, Bogarín co-directs with Carlos Armesto, founder of New York's Theatre C. Since Armesto's company is dedicated to unique theatrical experiences, he says their collaboration, dubbed PITCHBACK, is a natural fit. "I was fascinated because we can create an event where we are able to communicate in ways that we haven't before," he explains.

Bree Klauser, a legally blind, non-binary performer who plays Alberto as a child in flashbacks as well as other characters, was particularly excited to join the production. "I have enough usable vision and can play sighted, but I've had casting directors ask, 'Where's your focus?'" they say. "It's always awkward to explain that I have involuntary movement of the pupils in both eyes."

Klauser performed on stage for over a decade with Theater Breaking Through Barriers, a company dedicated to advancing artists with disabilities, but took a hiatus to focus on television and voice-over work. Odd Man Out marks their return to the New York stage. In addition to their low vision, they identify as neurodiverse and are frustrated by how slowly the theatre industry is evolving in terms of inclusion. "I want theatres to put their money where their mouth is," they say. "There was a lot of talk during the pandemic, but now it seems many places—at least in the big commercial sector—have reverted to business as usual. That's why this is such a beautiful project. To not have to worry about how I'm being perceived and just communicating is actually very liberating."


Even though Odd Man Out is not a new show, Klauser says they were encouraged to share their input. "My voice was valuable in the room, especially regarding language that had to do with blindness," they say, like referring to a sleep mask instead of a blindfold. They also showed actor Pablo Drutman, who plays the adult Alberto, how to use a cane properly.

Klauser says that making sure everyone is comfortable in the pitch-black space—both actors and audiences with varying degrees of sight—is top priority. "To be in complete darkness, you tap into a whole different way of existing," they say. "We're making sure that everyone is safe, because anything can happen."

Bogarín concurs. "There are so many negative associations of darkness, and we want to create an experience that allows everyone to perceive it positively, meditatively and securely," he says. To that end, Odd Man Out allows theatregoers who become overwhelmed to leave and go to another room with lighting where they are given eye masks and can listen to the rest of the show via headphones.

Of course, they'll be missing out on the in-person theatrical sorcery conjured by the cast in the theatre, including live Foley sounds and other sensory effects. "We are the magicians here just as much as in any other show," Klauser says. "We're just doing it without the spectacle of props and costumes and lighting. When you are in the dark, there is no wandering attention. Removing the visual element actually makes people pay attention ten times more."

Armesto hopes that, in addition to providing unique entertainment and a compelling story, Odd Man Out gives audiences a new perspective on how we experience the world. "It's a way to tap into calmness," he says. "Let go of all the screens with bytes of information and just be human in a communal way together."

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Gerard Raymond is a Sri Lanka-born arts journalist based in New York City who's a member of the Drama Desk and the American Theatre Critics Association.