“Can you see me?” Ellen Gould asks the audience, as she enters the sparsely furnished stage. A twinkling of piano notes accompanies her from stage right. The backdrop is a black screen glazed in blue light. All eyes are on the storyteller, a petite woman with a warm smile. We are immediately captivated. “Everyone has a blind spot,” she says. Some of us may agree. However, Ms. Gould is speaking in more than metaphorical terms. She is speaking about people who truly have limited vision, people with Stargardt disease. Stargardt disease is a genetic form of macular degeneration. It causes progressive vision loss, and usually strikes during childhood or adolescence. Ms. Gould carefully walks us through the progression of this disease with a series of female characters who are slowly becoming unsighted. “Seeing Stars” begins with the story of Astrid, a name that translates to star. Astrid recalls her childhood, a simpler time growing up in the Dominican Republic with her parents, her siblings, and her beloved Abuela. Abuela taught Astrid to find focus by using her peripheral vision. “You have to make a star with your eyes,” Abuela told her. “Look right, look left, up, then down.” She had to trick her eyes into focusing on what was right in front of her. Astrid loved dancing beneath the starlit skies with her family in her homeland. Later, she is given the opportunity to move to New York City; however, she is sad to leave them. Her siblings and her Abuela are unable to travel with her because each of them has already contacted Stargardt disease. So, Astrid moves to New York without them. The buildings are so high and the city lights are so bright that she finds it difficult to see the stars above. Soon, she finds a place north of the city, where she can enjoy the constellations and remember the lessons she learned from Abuela. Next is Dory, a woman in her mid‑thirties who begins having vision problems while she is vacationing in Europe. She decides to return from her trip early to meet with an ophthalmologist, thinking she needs a new prescription for her glasses. Unfortunately, eyeglasses will not correct her already deteriorating eyesight. Her diagnosis is Stargardt disease, which is incurable. Instead of becoming discouraged by the news, Dory goes to work for a not‑for‑profit organization that assists the unsighted; she becomes the organization’s Director of Major Gifts. She also helps to create an Assisted Technology Department for the organization, hoping to educate people with vision disabilities about technological programming. The comic relief of the show comes from Connor, a twenty‑something Beauty Blogger who writes a blog called “Blind Girl Swag.” Connor is a pageant queen, one of the first visually challenged contestants to walk the runway, so her blog provides a wealth of information about makeup and fashion trends. She not only schools her followers on the dos and don’ts of pageant etiquette, she also throws in a few fun and flirty dating tips. One of her funniest posts is “Blind Girl on a Blind Date,” where she discusses the pitfalls of dating for the unsighted. Some of her tips include: Have a friend help you pick out the perfect first‑date outfit, preferably something not too sexy, yet also not too matronly. Also, watch the temptation to overdo the makeup. Too much blush or mascara may give your date a scare. Consider having your date wear a flower in his lapel, so that you are able to pick him out in the crowd. Most importantly, you are there to have fun, no matter how well or badly the date goes. Just be yourself. Ellen Gould, the show’s performer and creator, has done a great job of putting a personal face to complex subject matter. Ms. Gould achieves this by weaving clever musical interludes throughout her characters’ anecdotes. One of my favorite songs was a quirky patter song about reading the eye chart at the DMV, called “EFPTOZ.” The song is about a Bostonian woman who memorizes the eye chart so that she won’t flunk her eye exam. There is also something symmetrical about the writer’s use of characters. Although I only mentioned the play’s three most notable characters, there were five in total. Five women to mark the five points of a star. Unfortunately, the other two women got lost somewhere in the galaxy. In fact, I cannot even remember their names, only that one was from Boston and the other was from the South. The transitions between each individual character became muddled halfway through the show, so after a while, it was hard to keep track of who was who. Although the artist’s message was intriguing, I think it would become even clearer with one singular voice.
“Seeing Stars” Written and performed by Ellen Gould Directed By Kathleen Butler Musical Directed and Arranged by Bob Goldstone October 13 at 4 PM, October 17 at 9 PM, November 3 at 4 PM, November 20 at 3:30 PM, and November 23 at 4 PM Photo credit: courtesy of the production 2019 United Solo Theatre Festival Theatre Row 410 West 42nd Street New York City
KIA STANDARD is a writer and musical theater performer, who has appeared in regional and international productions of “West Side Story,” “The King and I”, “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” She received an MA in Creative Writing/Nonfiction from The Johns Hopkins University, and has published articles and profiles for various talent magazines. Ms. Standard is currently working as a musical playwright.