Sunday, April 3, 2016

Review of "Blackbird"

Blackbird, is a hard driving, troubling drama that addresses the after effects of a child molestation incident on the two involved parties.  Una (Michelle Williams) was abused when she was 12 years old.  Now in her mid-20’s she, by chance, discovers the whereabouts of her violator.  She barges into his workplace one late afternoon and, for the next 80 minutes or so, verbally spars with the scared, antagonistic culprit (Jeff Daniels).  She wants to rehash what occurred years ago, the reasons, and aftermath.  The venom spewed, from both scarred souls, is raw and feels real.  During the course of the production preconceived notions become less defined.  Actions long ago, while thoroughly reprehensible, are not so black and white.  The conclusion of the play raises further questions of truthfulness and motives—from both parties.

Playwright David Harrower takes an abhorrent event and teases out a very plausible scenario.  The strengths of the show is the uneasy questions and retorts from each character.  Harrower keeps the audience off-balance, zigging when you think the direction will zag.  While Blackbird is an absorbing drama with outstanding performances it does seem somewhat longer then necessary, which doesn’t diminish its strength, but slightly lessens its impact.

Both Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels are worthy adversaries.  The pair each run through a jumble of emotions and reactions.  They can be deceivingly soft-spoken at one moment, conniving foes the next, and seething aggressors after that.  These are both damaged individuals and the actors skillfully convey this mental make-up.  The performers bring a nuanced approach to their character, giving them a complexity that combs the depths of their respective despair and inner agony. 

Director Joe Mantello is able to extract superior performances from Williams and Daniels.  With the action-taking place in the deserted break room, he skillfully uses the long, eight-foot table as a barrier as well as a shield for the combatants.  He deftly maneuvers Una and Ray around the fluorescent-lit room, treating them like two caged, unpredictable animals, each ready to pounce.  They lunge, they parry, they retreat. 

Blackbird, playing at the Belasco Theatre through June 11th.

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