Harrower's script is harrowing. Una, then twelve and now somewhere in her late twenties, meets her nervous, fidgety abuser for the first time since he, many years younger, took her to a vacation cottage by the shore long ago. He says he did not mean to hurt her and seeks an opening within the dialogue when he might explain his actions. Ray went to jail for a few years, and attempts to convince himself that he: paid his dues, will forever carry remorse, and is basically a decent human. No way: he's the bad guy.
Smith's Ray (he is actually Peter now, but Una addresses him as she knew him) is haunted, anxious and harried. The actor's convincing performance deserves high marks from start to finish. One despises the character as one admires Smith's detailed, honest portrayal of a man nobody wishes to honor.
Wittig, making her professional stage debut as Una, is superb. Physically, she resembles the character of Laura as actress Melissa George personified her in HBO's recent series, "In Treatment." Wittig pushes Una with precision as she stands up to the man who ruined her years earlier. Una mixes her anger with an unyielding zeal as she seeks confrontation with and information from Ray.
The action transpires under fluorescents, as provided by designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella and lit by Mary Jo Dondlinger. The room is replete with half-eaten bags of fries and burgers and, during the course of the performance, the garbage assumes further dimension. The locale is altogether unsettling and unpleasant.
Amy Saltz, directing, finds the many peaks Harrower, a native of Edinburgh, wrote into Blackbird. The playwright has created a work which is emotive, complex and, as it develops, filled with an extra twist and turn. These developments will remain, at TheaterWorks' request, concealed.
That the characters are combative is immediately evident. The scenario, as presented during the opening moments of the play, is familiar. The conflict between the actors is controlled through tension and plot development. Ultimately, the pace speeds forward through a shocking development. Anyone who previously surmised that Blackbird was recognizable, and therefore old news, discards that notion in a heartbeat.
The drama is abrasive but absorbing and, most of all, inescapable. The confines within TheaterWorks are close ones. Hence, all theatergoers are within proximity of the stage. No one is spared. The action becomes frenzied and feelings are raw, unprotected, and fierce. Finally, Blackbird, after the final curtain, is disquieting.
Blackbird is presented by TheaterWorks in Hartford through May 11th. For ticket and schedule information, call (860) 527-7838 or visit theaterworkshartford.org.
- Fred Sokol