(Source: New Yorker)In Lantern Theater Company’s recently filmed production of Molly Sweeney by Brian Friel, streaming January 22 via March 7, 2021, Molly’s blindness is component of her fulfilled and happy life. Blind since inintricate, Molly finds joy in her perception of the people, whether with the scent of flowers and also the feel of their petals or the motion of the water roughly her as she swims. When her husband also Frank convinces her to attempt surgical procedure to gain back her sight, she agrees but finds that what she gains in sight might not comprise for the loss of the human being she knew.

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The humale eye is made up of many kind of parts, all of which need to work-related exactly in order to develop sight. Light enters via the eye’s external layer, dubbed the cornea. The pupil contracts or dilates to regulate exactly how a lot light enters, and also the lens — the clear inner part of the eye that sits behind the iris and also pupil — concentrates it further before it hits the retina to procedure the light into imeras. The retina is the light sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye.

Embedded in the retina are millions of light sensitive cells, which come in two primary varieties: rods and cones. When light strikes either the rods or the cones of the retina, it is converted into an electric signal that is relayed to the brain via the optic nerve. The brain then translates the electrical signals right into the images a perchild sees via the cerebral cortex, which is crucial in perception, memory, and also consciousness, among various other essential neural functions.


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Photoreceptor cells through and without retinitis pigmentosa (Source: National Eye Institute)

In Molly’s instance, issues with both her lenses and also retinas influence her sight. She has actually cataracts — a clouding of the typically clear lens led to when tconcerns within the lens break down and clump together, blocking light. She also has actually retinitis pigmentosa, a team of rare, genetic disorders that involve a breakdown and also loss of rods and also cones in the retina. Typical symptoms include loss of peripheral and also night vision, often advancing to tunnel vision and then low vision. Molly’s instance is excessive in that blindness, if it comes at all, normally comes in adulthood quite than infancy; her case starts exceptionally early and also progresses exceptionally conveniently.

Cataracts can be treated through regime surgical procedure to relocation the damaged lens with an fabricated one. But there is no cure for retinitis pigmentosa, just experimental therapies to extfinish vision. In this video, an RP patient who shed his sight later on in life discusses the disease in the conmessage of his firm sense of independence and also his marriage — all points Molly navientrances also.


Molly’s specific eye problems are influenced by and mirror those of a male named Virgil, the patient at the center of To See and Not See, an short article in The New Yorker by Oliver Sacks that influenced Brian Friel to compose Molly Sweeney. Virgil’s fiancée convinced him to have cataract surgical treatment in attempts to regain his sight, which medical professionals assumed was irrevocably lost, and also in a medical miracle it succeeded in giving him some sight. His underlying retinitis pigmentosa intended that perfect sight would certainly be difficult, but the cataract removal brought about a far-reaching advancement.

But the restoration of sight showed to be its own kind of damage. After the initial excitement and novelty wore off, life as a newly sighted adult showed challenging. Sacks frames Virgil’s dilemma as the difference in between seeing and understanding — while Virgil’s eyes can currently process light into imeras, he did not have actually the visual frameworks to decode those images. His new sight did not correlate with the tactile means he knowledgeable the world for decades, and also that pudepend tactile world was now unreachable. Ultimately, his vision worsened aget, both from underlying health and wellness conditions and, potentially, from his cerebral cortex ending up being overwhelmed with the new visual language it was attempting to construct and shutting down as an outcome. Sacks last sees Virgil ill and also effectively blind.

Virgil’s troubled trip into the human being of sighted human being is regular with the experiences of the few others who proficient a comparable “miracle” over history. Sacks relays the findings of researchers and philosophers from as at an early stage as the 17th century, charting the experiences of the few recorded adults who had their sight restored after a lifetime of blindness. Tright here are prevalent themes — especially the difficulty of perceiving somepoint sequentially, as one who experiences the people via touch would, and perceiving somepoint in its totality as sighted world execute. Virgil and his historic compatriots additionally have trouble via distance, shadows, and a feeling of place.


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Oliver Sacks’ 1993 article in The New Yorker that influenced Molly Sweeney (source: New Yorker)

After the initial euphoria wears off, another widespread design template is disappointment or aversion to imperfection, such as skin blemishes. This complex Virgil’s project as a massage therapist (a profession Molly Sweeney shares): seeing the blemishes on the bodies of world he knew so well by touch was upsetting, and he periodically massaged with his eyes closed to attempt and also accessibility his previous way of being. Almany all of the tape-recorded adult patients knowledgeable initial joy followed by massive challenges and emotional situations. A few adapted and did well. The remainder withattracted, and some dropped right into deep depression.

In the New Yorker article, Sacks explains the collapse of the “perceptual self.” The people each of us perceive are highly individualized, which have the right to be as small as the methods individuals watch the exact same shade and also as huge as suffering the civilization through sight versus touch. When the perceptual devices collapse, as they carry out as soon as one need to relocate from a tactile device to a sighted one, the perceptual self might also, bring about somepoint referred to as Anton’s syndrome: psychic blindness, where one is oblivious to their very own capacity to check out or absence thereof. Sacks theorizes that the overfill on the brain in trying to learn to see is so intense that it deserve to shut down and bring about this psychic blindness. It afflicts Virgil in real life, and Molly onphase.

Learning to check out is not as simple as learning a new skill, or also like a newborn initially learning to view. Unfavor newborns, recently sighted adults have to totally reorder their brain’s processing features, which have been built without the capacity to check out. Essentially, they need to entirely unlearn one means of being and perceiving in order to attempt to build another method of doing so — without the benefit of the newborn brain’s plasticity. For Oliver Sacks’ Virgil and also Brian Friel’s Molly, seeing and also not seeing are two entirely different methods of being, and also the movement from one to the other is a prouncovered neurological and also emotional job.

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Go behind the scenes: Lantern Artistic Director Charles McMahon on filming Molly Sweeney and also bringing theater alive safely onscreen

Molly Sweeney was filmed at St. Stephen’s Theater in Center City Philadelphia in loss 2020, through strict adherence to all CDC, state, and neighborhood wellness and also safety and security guidelines, and is streaming January 22 — March 7, 2021. Visit our website for tickets and also indevelopment.