By Daniel Dunlow
From the first moment of lights up on the play, the audience puts on their seat belts and goes with the story from 0 to 60 in what seems like mere instances. Maintaining this speed for the remainder of the 90-minute play, Blackbird promises to be one of the most potent and fierce drama’s of the season.
The blackbird, to me (having grown up in the south) is a pest of the field that my father the farmer planted seeds into– coming in and eating freshly buried potential plants. In Greek folklore, the blackbird was said to die if it ate pomegranate (the fruit of lust and sex.) The Beatles also released a song entitled “Blackbird,” featuring lyrics that read “Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.” However, by the end of the play, the last thing on the audience’s mind is what the title means. They have synthesized ideas of love, hurt, and human moral into a hard-to-swallow pill.
This two-person drama that opened at the Belasco Theatre this month, after winning the 2007 Olivier Award for best new play, a 2007 run at Manhattan Theatre Club, and many different international productions, wallops Broadway with brute force. The play is the reunion of a sexual abuse victim (Una) and her abuser (Ray) after 15 hidden from each other– She, being 12 at the time of the abuse, and he being in his mid-40s. Now, the curtain comes up on her at 27 looking into the eyes of a man she has only seen in nightmares for 15 years. All it takes for this boiling drama to stake its claim on that Tony-nom slot is the brilliant direction of Joe Mantello. No moment is wasted in getting to know these characters from start to finish.
A single room with over-flowing trash cans is wildly complimented by the sterling performances of Jeff Daniels as Ray and Michelle Williams as Una. I usually find two-person plays concerning as an audience member; if a scene is going poorly, you know that there is no chance of another character entering to fix it. These actors never run into scene-trouble in this tour-de-force of a play. They let the masterful language by playwright David Harrower take them where the play says they must go, which at times is intelligent and shocking.
Ray, the abuser, starts the play just like Twelve Angry Men— Guilty until proven innocent. He fights through the play to show how he is not just an abuser, but also a person. He is up against the mountain of human consciousness. Una, on the other hand, is fighting for the first time in her life. She is fighting for something she doesn’t even understand after 15 years. This internal character conflict, that has external relationship repercussions for the characters on stage is purely stunning.
I knew nothing about the play when I sat down in my seat, however I was glued by moment one. For the first time this season, I was grabbing my date’s leg in anxiety for the characters. The entire audience was strapped in, and taken on a roller-coaster that, regardless of the ending, the journey was the beauty of it.
Run to see this play that is enormously brave and masterfully produced.
By David Harrower; directed by Joe Mantello
WITH: Jeff Daniels (Ray) and Michelle Williams (Una).
Sets by Scott Pask; costumes by Ann Roth; lighting by Brian MacDevitt; sound by Fitz Patton; production stage manager, Jill Cordle; production manager, Aurora Productions; coompany manager, Megan Curren; At The Belasco Theatre on Broadway, 111 West 44th Street, New York. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.