Call it a taboo love story, call it child molestation. However you feel about the subject matter of David Harrower’s play Blackbird, Everyman Theatre’s production is 90 minutes of nail-biting, heart-flipping perfection.
Director Derek Goldman finds the all too-human complexities and unsettling truths in the story of a charged reunion between a young woman named Una (Megan Anderson) and Ray (David Parkes), who was her 40-year-old lover when she was 12.
Sent to jail for his actions, Ray now is pushing 60 with a new name—Peter—and a new life on the outside. Una, on the other hand, has not moved on. Every gesture of her slight frame, every tremble of her flighty, girlish voice is that of an eager-to-please, slightly sarcastic adolescent trapped in a thirtyish body. Even the sight of a band-aid on her bare knee is awkwardly child-like.
Una has forced this confrontation, but why? For closure would be a psychologist’s take, but that would be too easy, too glib. Una faces Ray for other reasons—perhaps to acknowledge that their love really happened and was not merely a schoolgirl’s first crush manipulated by an older man. Or maybe she just needs to see her younger self one last time reflected in the eyes of the man who loved her and ruined her so completely.
Set in the trash-strewn break room of an anonymous office building, Blackbird hurtles the audience into this maelstrom of emotions and misguided chances, as Una and Ray sift through their memories with bruising delicacy. What is so breathtaking about this production is how you are driven to seeing all sides—even the ones that make you most uncomfortable.
While Ray’s seduction of a little girl easily makes him a pervert, his recounting of their first meeting at a family barbeque and the way he saw her and felt about her is rendered in high-colored language that is unsettling in its poetry. Of course, this could be the romantic story he tells himself to justify his actions. In contrast, Una’s language is much coarser when she describes their assignations, but beneath the crude detail is a longing, a desperation to make sense of and refine what happened 20 years ago.
The most haunting part of Blackbird involves their twin accounts of what happened the night he took her to a seaside town—a night of intimacy, confusion and irrefutable heartbreak. Una and Ray may have fled that town, but they never really left it. Una drops the tough-talking stance and speaks crushingly of how she moved from passion to panic and despair in a single night, after he left her “alone and in love.”
Megan Anderson is a revelation in the role of Una. Outwardly purposeful and insistent in her grilling of Ray. Miss Anderson searingly reveals the inner ghostliness of a young woman who, for all intents and purposes, died as a 12-year-old abandoned by her lover. The only way she can spark herself to life is through punishment—punishing her parents and herself through promiscuity, punishing Ray for finding her and making her his one and only.
Miss Anderson burns with a bright, sad flame and Mr. Parkes proves to also be a formidable source of heat as Ray. At first sputtering and indignant at Una’s intrusion into his new life, Mr. Parkes’ Ray slowly, devastatingly unspools into the addled, ardent 40-year-old he once was.
Still, Ray can never be the man Una holds in her mind and in every fiber of her body. In the end, he once again is overwhelmed and runs away. Once again, Una is left abandoned in the dark, crying out his name.
by David Harrower
directed by Derek Goldman
produced by Everyman Theatre
reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
Blackbird plays through June 13, 2010 at Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St., Baltimore.