Friday, April 24, 2009


David Harrower’s “Blackbird” is, well, harrowing.

The tale is strong medicine. Somewhere in England, Ray (at age 40) has a sexual affair with Una (at age 12). Ray goes to prison, gets out, gets a new name, a new family, a new life. 15 years later, she tracks him down.

Ray (in a grim echo of Ricky Gervais' The Office) has a crappy mid-level management job in a crappy warehouse. Una meets him there — and basically peels off the defensive layers of his soul (and hers) in the dingy break room.

There's none of the solipsistic romanticism of Nabokov's Lolita. There's none of the easy justice of daytime TV, either. Una confronts Ray. He's ruined her life. She makes him face it. But, uncomfortably, she still has feelings for him. The playwright makes the audience face that.

Harrower's script offers machine-gun fire dialogue, laid out like poetry. I've read it. His words look good on the page — but, then, so did the words in David Mamet's Oleanna, which this very much resembles. Mamet directed the movie adaptation of his own play — and it sucked. I was afraid this would suffer a similar fate — that it wouldn't make the transition from page to stage. Director Beth Duda did a damn good job. She found the music inside the script — the emotional beats — and they feel exactly right. The characters feel like people talking. The actors, of course, had something to do with it.

Una is a wounded bird. Ray is a shit. Not an easy assignment, either one of them.

As Una, Sarah Stockton successfully combined a sense of vulnerability with a core of white-hot rage. You figure she's been rehearsing this confrontation in her mind for years. Of course her words would be boiled down. She'd know exactly what to say, have an answer for everything Ray could possibly say. Her words would be a perfect acid — and she'd throw it in his face and destroy him. But — when Una actually faces the real human being — it's not so easy. Stockton nailed her character's contradictions perfectly.

Dan Patrick Brady could easily have played Ray as a pure creep. But even creeps don't think they're creeps. From Ray's point of view, he feels entitled to a new life. He did a bad thing, was disgraced and sent to prison. (All this happened before lists of sex offenders became public record in the UK.) He's been punished, OK? That was then, this is now. (And after all, what he did wasn't really all that bad. It's understandable. He's not one of those child molesters.) All that was in the past. But Una's now haunting him in the present. He wants her safely back in the past. Like it or not, Brady snags you into seeing Ray's point of view.

There's no easy point of view to consider this material.

Blackbird is a story of abuse. It's a story of hate. God help us, it's also a sick love story. Strong medicine, as I said. There's no spoonful of sugar to help it go down.

It's not a feel-good play. It's a play that makes you feel truth.

Kudos to FST for presenting it — and for making it come alive.

Through May 7
FST Gompertz Theatre