Doug Haverty’s play, In My Mind’s Eye, takes place in San Jose, California between 1968 and 1981. I lived in San Jose as a boy part of that time. I have vivid memories of those years. In My Mind’s Eye is the true tale of a young woman, legally blind, who becomes a school teacher, overcoming the adversities of her situation as a child, and later as an adult.
Patty (Peyton Kirkner) is a smart, sparkling young teenager, the child of a single mother, Lola (Maria Kress). The child was born with eyes that did not work right. She can see with her left eye, barely and with difficulty. She is chipper despite her situation and wants more than anything to be able to go to a regular school, instead of the “special” school she has been attending. Her smothering, over-protective mother resists the notion. She has a decent job, but the child is her life.
Patty makes the acquaintance of an elderly widower in the neighborhood named Calhoun (Lloyd Pedersen). He is an amiable sort and the two soon become fast friends, despite Lola’s glowering opinion of the man. She wants Patty all to herself. As for going to a “normal” school, Patty of course gets her way.
To dial back for a moment, the action of the play begins with a brief scene of a beautiful young woman who sits in a window seat upstage listening to her portable tape recorder. We learn later that this is the adult that Patty will become. When we meet her later in the action, she now calls herself Trish (Kait Haire), a determined person who aims to become a classroom teacher despite her limitations. On her quest, she must overcome the trials of public school as a child, where she must convince the Dean of Women Miss Hester (Clara Rodriguez), that she can handle the hazing she must endure. And later, as an adult and a first year teacher, she must deal with the same kind of kids that were the bane of her existence as a child. Her beauty and innocence becomes an attraction for the handsome, smooth-talking charmer, the young English teacher, Hugo (Bobby Slaski).
The most interesting aspect of this show is the two iterations of the nearly blind girl, Patty and Trish, who morph fluidly as the adult and child, the adult becoming the child and the child becoming the adult, both wearing identical clothing tailored to fit each age. Sound confusing? It’s not when you see it.
Bruce Kimmel is an undeniably capable director, as his work with the Group Rep’s The Man Who Came to Dinner proves. If there is a problem with the show, it is that the action lacks true emotional depth. The dialog sometimes becomes “artful.” The two exceptions are the characters of Mr. Pedersen and Ms. Rodriguez, that come across as more genuine.
The play has a pleasing, flexible design by Pawena Sriha (lighting by Douglas Gabrielle) that supports the action. Michael Mullen’s costumes are just terrific, as is Steve Shaw’s sound design.
In My Mind’s Eye, produced by Bita Arefnia, who also serves as assistant director, runs through March 15 at The Group Rep’s Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood.