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Out of the Darkness : Jim Geoghan's play, 'Light Sensitive,' illuminates lives stuck in ruts, and the issues of blindness.

July 22, 1994|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; T. H. McCulloh writes regularly about theater for The Times.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — Everybody's in a rut. At least, it seems that way. That's what playwright Jim Geoghan was looking at when he started writing "Light Sensitive," opening this weekend at Actors Alley's temporary quarters in a large green and white tent at North Hollywood's Academy Plaza.

But Geoghan wanted to go beyond the ordinary, beyond what most people complain about. He wanted three people in the deepest, bleakest rut possible.

The play's title refers to the blindness of its main character, ex-cabbie Tom, who's afraid of finding light in his dark world. His best friend, who was helping Tom jump-start his car when the battery exploded and blinded Tom, is riddled with a guilt that keeps him at Tom's beck and call. Seeking a way out, he brings in a woman--a reader from the Lighthouse for the Blind--to distract Tom. Even though she comes from a well-to-do family, the reader suffers from a family created lack of self-esteem.

Geoghan, best-known for his hit play "Only Kidding," which ran more than a year off-Broadway, found seeds for this play in his youth.

"From the female character's point of view," he says, "there's a phenomenon I saw in my neighborhood. There were a lot of large families, and there would always be in some of these families one kid who wasn't quite right. But nobody ever identified what it was, for sure. It was always softly spoken. So that as all these kids got married, this would be the one that stayed home. What it was was a sort of enforced insurance policy on the part of the parents to make sure one of the kids didn't leave home. The woman in the play is no exception to that."

The origin of his blind ex-cabbie was more complex. Geoghan worked with the blind at New York's Lighthouse when he was in college. Among other things, he was intrigued by the sexuality of blind people, their romantic notions.

"I found blind men," Geoghan remembers, "to be much more horny than anyone I'd ever met before. It took me about a year to figure it out. I put together my own 10-cent theory, which is that sighted people gratify themselves visually all day long in bits and pieces. You look, you look, you like, you look. But blind people don't get to do that.

"I started to wonder about the relationship between eyesight, sexuality, romance, and how one affects the other. Eventually, how a very active romance and falling in love is almost like a metaphorical picture-taking. The play grew out of those feelings."

The explicitness of Geoghan's descriptions of women for his blind friends reminded him that they were just like him.

Greg Mullavey, who played Mary's husband on "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," is Tom. He learned to play a blind man by walking around his own house with his eyes closed. He says the role proved insightful.

"I discovered in the play," Mullavey says, "that this guy is not special. He lost his sight in an accident. He's angry. He has lots of feelings. He's as normal as you or I. Perhaps he has more heightened feelings because of his blindness, and he has as many romantic ideas as anyone else. We tend to assume that handicapped people are non-sexual. I have. The play has given me insight as an actor, and as a human being. They want exactly what I've always wanted."

In spite of its heavy subject matter, the play has humor. Director Everett Chambers, known as a producer of such TV films as "Beverly Hills Madam" and of such TV series as "Colombo," says: "The humor comes out of the relationships, the characters, how they behave with one another. They're in a situation that is a little black, and they are able to see the humor in it. All three of these characters are wounded birds."

Geoghan, whose background is in stand-up comedy, agrees that this play is no place for jokes. "They're in appalling circumstances, and they say appalling things. There's no way to monitor it. They're bound to be funny at some point."

At the same time, Geoghan thinks of his trio as heroes. "Anyone," he says, "who overcomes their own personal difficulties in any degree has got to have some heroism in them."

All three characters, to one degree or another, have heroic things to do in this volatile situation, things they didn't think they were capable of, making brave decisions and climbing out of their ruts, redefining themselves and their relationships. And Geoghan doesn't let them off easily.

"Let's go to the theater," he says with a wide grin, "and take the gloves off. Let's duke it up with bare knuckles. It's no time for nice. That's why we've got theater, isn't it, to work these things out?"

WHERE AND WHEN

What: "Light Sensitive."

Location: Actors Alley Tent, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Plaza, 4220 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 21.

Price: $18.

Call: (818) 508-4200.

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