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Blackbird


edjames
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This UK import, a 2007 Olivier Award winner doe best new play, offers a disturbing and dramatic look at the meeting at his workplace, of 55-year-old Ray who is shocked to be visited by a young woman, 27-year-old Una.

 

Fifteen years earlier, when Una was only twelve, he sexually abused her, for which Ray was arrested and imprisoned. He has managed to establish a reasonably successful new life under another name, but Una recognized him in a photograph and tracked him down.

 

Ray takes Una to the office break room, where the two engage in a long and difficult confrontation involving Una's continuing struggles to understand and come to terms with the abuse and her intensely conflicting emotions. These rocket back and forth between anger, curiosity, confusion, and even a persistent attachment to Ray, whom Una loved and believed loved her. The fearful Ray parries her demanding questions and descriptions of her feelings and experiences, all the while uncertain of her intentions.

 

As the play unfolds they dramatically retells their relationship, the night they had sex and the aftermath of the event.

 

Brilliantly played by Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams the play runs a brisk hour and twenty minutes without intermission. You could tell Ms. Williams acted her guts out because she looked exhausted at the curtain call.

 

A sure winner.

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I saw this tonight. Edjames has given a perfect synopsis of the play. The acting was wonderful;, but I have some reservations about the play. Walking home, I sensed that perhaps I don't understand the psychology of an abused person, and her actions throughout the play make perfect sense -- just not to me. I hope to discuss it with others who have seen it, and I'm looking forward to reading the reviews next month.

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Ben seems to find the production "lacking," and we still have no idea what the hell the title refers to! LOL

 

Review: ‘Blackbird’: The Past Returns, Taunting

  • Photohttp://static01.nyt.com/images/2016/03/11/arts/11BLACKBIRDJP/11BLACKBIRDJP-master675-v2.jpg

 

  • They make an alarming entrance, these two, setting off instant worry and wonder. They walk as if welded together, though whether in support, restraint or combat is unclear. Her eyes are wild and her bare legs wobbly, and he leads their stuttering steps with an angry, obdurate chin.
     
    If you saw them in real life, you’d consider calling the police. As it is, your first impressions of Ray and Una — so intensely embodied by Jeff Danielsand Michelle Williams in the Broadway production of David Harrower’s “Blackbird” — would seem to guarantee a satisfyingly fraught night at the theater.
     
    What follows is definitely fraught, with the sort of acting that triggers seismometers. The satisfaction factor is somewhat lower.
    “Blackbird,” which took the Olivier Award in London for best play in 2007, is an immensely powerful work that only occasionally maximizes its potential in the fitful production that opened on Thursday night at the Belasco Theater. When I saw it nine years ago at the Manhattan Theater Club, it left me shaking.
     
    So I was steeled to have the breath knocked out of me once more. After all, this latest incarnation of Mr. Harrower’s disturbed and disturbing drama of criminal love shares many elements with that earlier version. It has the same accomplished director (Joe Mantello) and set designer (Scott Pask). Most important, it has the same leading man, Jeff Daniels, who in 2007 delivered what felt like the performance of his career.
     
    Mr. Daniels is still first-rate as Ray. And Ms. Williams, in the role previously played by Alison Pill, is certainly committed to the part of Ray’s former lover, whom he seduced 15 years before “Blackbird” begins, when she was 12 and he was in his 40s. But it often registers as the kind of commitment you associate with institutionalization in mental wards.
     
    Ms. Williams’s Una — who has sought out Ray, now living in a different town under a different name, at his workplace — starts off both hopping mad and, it would seem, certifiably mad. From her entrance, she’s way out on a limb; she hangs there, valiant and tremulous, until you fear for the actress’s safety.
     
    It’s definitely a bravura performance, fully conveying the damage sustained by a girl who was sexualized way too young. At times, it intriguingly suggests the flip side of Ms. Williams’s more silkily neurotic, Oscar-nominated turn as Marilyn Monroe in the film
    (2011).
     
    But this interpretation also begins the production at a fever pitch that can only sweat itself out. This Una reveals all her scars, still livid and bleeding, from the get-go; there’s not much room for revelations, except of the quieter kind.
     
    Mr. Daniels, as good as he is, is forced to emote up to Ms. Williams’ level. When the production reaches its no-holds-bar climax, which involves the trashing of Mr. Pask’s office snack room set, it’s anticlimactic; Mr. Daniels and Ms. Williams have already been there, done that, and so have we.
     
    http://static01.nyt.com/images/2016/03/11/arts/11BLACKBIRD/11BLACKBIRD-articleLarge.jpg
    Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams in “Blackbird.” CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times
    Sometimes, though, a flawed production allows you to observe the virtues of a play more clearly than a perfect one does. Being less invested viscerally means you can see the compositional bones beneath the flesh of the performance.
     
    “Blackbird” has fabulous bones. Mr. Harrower has said he was inspired by news accounts of an American ex-Marine who eloped with a 12-year-old British girl whom he met on the Internet. Such stories have of course long provided sensationalist fodder for television series like “Law and Order: SVU.”
     
    Similar material has inspired more sensitive, lyricized work by the likes of Paula Vogel (the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “How I Learned to Drive”) and Vladimir Nabokov (“Lolita,” of course). Mr. Harrower stakes out a middle ground between dispassionate observation and aching empathy.
     
    For what “Blackbird” does is convince us, through a creeping current of persuasion, that the shared history of Ray and Una — which put him in jail and her on a path of self-destruction — is indeed a love story. And that this is the grimmest tragedy of all, one that they can neither willingly embrace nor even find the words for.
     
    Accordingly, when they first encounter each other in Ray’s office building, where Una has tracked him down after seeing his picture in a trade magazine, they talk in spasmodic fragments. (Mr. Pask’s set, for the record, remains an effective model of bureaucratic sterility begrimed by overflowing trash.) It’s as if the enormity of what binds them can be approached only obliquely.
     
    But when such lines are delivered with the sputtering frenzy that accompanies them here, they come to seem less like a reflection of the unspeakable than a by-product of uncontrolled rage. Ms. Williams’s entire body shimmies with righteous sarcasm, while Mr. Daniels behaves like an aggrieved, aging prizefighter backed into a corner of the ring.
     
    There’s certainly a psychological rationale for the characters behaving this way. But the dialogue assumes the blurry, unpleasant loudness that brings to mind strangers fighting on the streets. You’re less fascinated than annoyed, and you tend not to hear what’s being said.
     
    In this production you’re seldom aware of the threatening but magnetic core of quiet that always lurks beneath the words, especially in the first crucial quarter of its uninterrupted 80 minutes. Later, as Ray and Una start to fill in the blanks for each other of what happened in the immediate aftermath of their last encounter, you start to listen more attentively.
     
    Ms. Williams has some beautiful moments here. Note the surprised stillness that overtakes her when she admits that there were certain details of her relationship with Ray that she never divulged to the police. And throughout, Mr. Daniels is vibrantly ambiguous — a beleaguered and terrified mediocrity, made larger somehow by a monstrous act, whose deepest motives remain obscure, probably even to himself.
     
    Mr. Harrower has provided both Una and Ray with gorgeous, unsettling memory monologues about being lost in a claustrophobic village to which they escaped. And there’s a stunner of a scene in which the stage is plunged into darkness. (Brian MacDevitt did the crafty lighting). For the first time in the play — and by then, it’s nearing its end — Ms. Williams seems utterly credible as the frightened, determined preadolescent that Una once was.
     
    Suddenly, we feel the tug of the black hole in which she has been floating and floundering for a very long 15 years. If only this production could make space more consistently for that gaping sense of absence, of a wound that will always remain open in two irreparably damaged lives.

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