If a play called “Blink” were a short story, I might even read it twice — it’s got an eerie feel, and it toys with reality in a curious way. “Blink” is not a short story, but it’s a play that’s written as if it very much wants to be.
That’s a problem because as a piece of theater, “Blink” — now in Center City in its American premiere from Inis Nua Theatre Company — is a lightweight affair, addled by its stilted novelette storytelling. It feels like a staged reading and not a full production, even though the staging by Inis Nua’s artistic director, Tom Reing, does about as much with it as possible.
It’s a modern love story, which is to say that if you’re looking for old-fashioned romance, “Blink” (whose title is unexplained) will have you settling instead for a fling with almost no benefits. That’s OK, but playwright Phil Porter sets us on a challenging road to romance and then goes abruptly south, and we ought to know why. We haven’t a hint about why a relationship between the two characters of “Blink” sours, except for the fact that warm weather is turning cold. I don’t think seasonal climate change will hold up in divorce court.
Porter is an opera librettist as well as a playwright, and his “Blink” was first seen last year at the massive Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It involves Jonah (Adam Altman) and Sophie (Clare Mahoney), neighbors who begin a relationship when she sends him, anonymously, one portion of a baby monitor that she’d purchased to look in on her ailing dad before he died. She keeps the camera part. He becomes a voyeur, she becomes his willing subject. The relationship goes on from there, to a form of benign stalking, if that is a possibility, and then to something more real.
“Blink” poses the question, within this plot, of whether our standard notion of reality no longer works in a digital age, and I do admire the play for that. Is a relationship any less real because it comes wirelessly into a screen — in itself, a modern reality? Are you visiting face to face with someone you’re talking with, for instance, on Facetime — the i-Phone’s simple program in which you see the other person on your phone screen? Have I, in fact, seen my sister’s new living room furniture? She showed it to me that way the other day.
Too bad that “Blink” is not in a position to more fully explore this question it subtly poses. But from the start, it doesn’t set itself up very neatly; the whole time these two people are relating only virtually and living next door, you can’t help but wonder why they just don’t — or won’t — go say hello. Nothing in the script tell us why that’s an impossibility, or what the impediment might be. Worse, the declamations — which stand in for dialogue here — become dry at some points, and the 80-minute drama seems a bit stuffed with filling.
“Blink” is performed — perhaps spoken is a better word — on a set with two of the ugliest office desks I’ve seen, which is not a complaint, just an observation. Altman and Mahoney, solid actors, use microphones with a somewhat distorted sound to portray characters other than the two people in question, and those effects by sound designer Jared Michael Delaney work nicely. So does Stephen Hungerford’s simple set, which becomes more complex when it opens later in the play to reveal a garden. Don’t look too long, though, for “Blink” to reveal itself as a play.
“Blink” runs through Oct. 27 in a production by Inis Nua Theatre Company at the Off-Broad Street Theater in the basement of First Baptist Church. The entrance to the theater is on Sansom Street near the corner of 17th Street. 215-454-9776 or http://inisnuatheatre.org.