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    Second sight

    "Weights," the story of how writer-performer Lynn Manning lost his vision in a bar fight, is not the tale of adversity you might expect — it's a surprising story about discovery in which going blind can be the best thing that happens to a person.


    Lynn Manning's interesting and often moving one-man play, "Weights," has a dimension that you might not expect from a story about how he went "from black man to blind man." As the L.A.-based writer and performer tells his story — which covers his rough childhood, the shooting that left a bullet in his brain, and his adjustment to life without eyesight — the most striking thing is how much funnier and more cheerful the play is in its second half. Losing his sight changed Manning's life forever — and for the better.

    Company: Theater by the Blind.
    Written and performed by: Lynn Manning.
    Music by: Gary Bergman.

    Related links: Official site
    Urban Stages
    259 West 30th St.
    Previews start: Jan. 9, 2004
    Jan. 16 - Feb. 1, 2004

    That's the way he tells it, and it could be a psychological prop or a long-nurtured rationalization, but it never feels that way. Still handsome and strongly built in his late 40s, he has had an extensive career as a writer and actor — while not busy competing as blind judo champion of the world.

    Manning describes the day in 1978 when he was shot in a bar with a king-sized sense of bravado. Checking out the ladies, thrashing all challengers at pinball, and giving a drunken redneck a righteous pounding, he feels on top of the world. "They don't know the universe has revolved around me all day!" he boasts. "It was the last day of life as I'd known it and I was feeling too good to notice." If his recollection of this day seems outsized and boastful, it also establishes a kind of attitude that carries over to the rest of the story.

      "Mr. Manning, after a loss such as yours there is a grieving process that you have to go through," a state worker informs him at the Department of Rehabilitation. But he's not depressed — he's excited.
    Because once his fear is spent in the chaotic hours between the pulling of a gun and his waking up after surgery, he embraces his new reality determined to master it too. It's the same can-do attitude, applied to life instead of just pinball. The people around him treat him, understandably, as fragile and depressed. "Mr. Manning, after a loss such as yours there is a grieving process that you have to go through," a state worker informs him at the Department of Rehabilitation. But he's not depressed — he's excited.

    Manning describes his first months without sight as a time of thrilling discovery — the world's sounds, smells and sensations were all new, and new people come into his life. An aspiring artist before the shooting, he describes how he "painted" the memory of people and everyday sights on his mind's canvas to preserve them. Another quite moving passage talks about the strange experience of "seeing" a woman friend for the first time only when they became intimate and his fingers and lips were able to trace her contours. Stories about learning to use a cane — not to mention a bathroom — are both illuminating and funny.

    Manning doesn't explore this question explicitly, but what blindness seems to have done is to make him grow up in a hurry. He still seems proud of the headstrong party boy that he was as a sighted 23-year-old, but blindness forced him onto a completely different path. It made him reinvent himself in an environment where the stakes were much more real and practical. Life was stripped bare of its trivia — it was no longer about impressing people in a bar, it was about learning to recognize voices, use money, walk around without bumping into things. And it wasn't just about those things either — it was about seeing himself, other people and his place in the world in a different way. Maybe everyone has to go through this transformation at some point, but not in one sudden, violent jolt. It's no wonder that the day he was shot was the day Manning remembers as the day he came to life.

    JANUARY 22, 2004

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