Also see Susan's review of Twelfth Night
It's difficult to write about Blackbird, the blistering drama now onstage in the intimate Milton Theatre at Washington's Studio Theatre, without giving away too much. In 75 minutes without intermission, playwright David Harrower lays out the emotional and physical battle between two people in a way so closely observed that the audience members feel like voyeurs.
The setting could not be more mundane: the break room in an unidentified office, designed with inspired banality by Debra Booth (the fluorescent-tube lights, the translucent glass wall panels held in place by metal bars, the cluttered plastic-topped table and chairs). This is where a young, outwardly self-possessed woman (Lisa Joyce) squares off against a rather colorless older man (Jerry Whiddon).
As brought to life by director David Muse, the actors convey their unspoken subtext almost more forcefully than their dialogue. Clearly, these two people knew each other years earlier, when she was 12 years old and he was a trusted friend and neighbor of her parents, and he betrayed her trust. She has held onto her anger and frustration, as well as a lingering desire that shocks and puzzles her; he has attempted to escape his past by changing his identity and starting freshnot knowing if that is possible.
Whiddon gives a fascinating, subtle performance as a man who knows his own guilt but, pressed to admit it, still attempts to minimize or justify his actions. As far as he's concerned, he is now the injured party. Joyce's character, waiflike yet determined, has more complex motives for the confrontation than she is willing to admit, and the viewer has trouble looking away from the rawness of her performance.
Harrower has admitted that his intent is to challenge audience expectations, which Blackbird clearly does. The dichotomy of the predator and the innocent victim is not necessarily as simple as it seems, as revealed through the interplay of these characters.