Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
The GableStage at the Biltmore, in association with Jay Harris, presents the David Harrower play Blackbird. Blackbird premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2005 and transferred to London in 2007 where it won an Olivier Award for Best New Play, beating out Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll and Peter Morgan's Frost/Nixon. It was produced at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York last season, where it received a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Play.
As stated in the press materials, its black feathers and melodious song make the blackbird a symbol of the darkness of sin and the alluring temptations of the flesh. It may be borne as a reminder to resist temptation. David Harrower grapples with the subject of temptation in this tale of a forbidden and unconventional relationship.
The play depicts the meeting between a 27-year-old woman named Una and a 55-year-old man named Ray at his place of work. Fifteen years earlier, Una and Ray shared a three month long romantic affair, ending in a sexual consummation that resulted in Ray being charged by her parents and serving time in jail. She has come to see him years later with questions, and longing and bitterness. The consummation of their relationship was not a rape, emotionally, to her as she was in love with him, but the connected feelings of betrayal and abandonment have left her a lifetime of unhappiness.
Ray has changed his name and arguably seems to have moved on with his life in a new place. Moving on does not necessarily mean accepting responsibility or ownership of one's actions, however. Ray's denial comes off as if he is a turtle with his head pulled back in his shell, with Una the child determined to poke the turtle emotionally until he comes back out. The author treats the relationship that existed between the 13-year-old Una and the 40-year-old Ray with an air of legitimacy that is disturbing.
Gordon McConnell as Ray admirably manages to maintain the red face, darting eyes and furtive movements of someone caught unprepared for the confrontation at hand. His Ray is neither weak nor a villain, however - just a man - and this is the goal of the author, to be sure. Mary Rasmussen as Una is a bit stilted in the first ten minutes of dialogue, making the conversational cut-offs and overlaps seem too scripted. After that, she inhabits the difficult character well. Her Una seems more like a grown woman jilted by an ex-lover, than a grown woman confronting the man convicted of sex crimes against her as a minor. The intentional disarray of the set and the intimacy of the theatre contribute to the desired feeling of the audience uncomfortably peeping in on a complex, emotionally charged confrontation. The effect is unsettling, and the subject matter, though well handled, may be too dark for many theatregoers.
Playwright David Harrower was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1966. His first play, Knives in Hens, was considered a critical and popular success. Subsequent plays include Kill the Old Torture Their Young, Presence and Dark Earth. He has also adapted several plays, including John Wyndam's The Chrysalids, Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author and Buchner's Woyzeck. He is considered a contemporary of "in-yer-face theatre," though his plays are less explicit and more metaphorical than many of the writers associated with that genre.
Blackbird is scheduled to appear at The GableStage through March 30, 2008. The GableStage is located in the eastern section of the Biltmore Hotel, at 1200 Anastasia Avenue, in Coral Gables, FL. Valet parking is available, or free parking is available in the Biltmore parking area west of the hotel. For tickets and information you may reach them at 305-445-1119 or online at www.GablesStage.org.
The GableStage, formerly known as the Florida Shakespeare Theatre, is a professional theatre presenting classic and contemporary theatre year round. They are members of the Theatre League of South Florida, the Florida Cultural Alliance, the Theatre Communications Group, SouthFloridaTheatre.com and the Dade Cultural Alliance. The GableStage hires local and non-local Equity and non-union actors and actresses, and is involved with the educational community in promoting educational theatre programs.
*Indicates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.