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Theatre Review by Howard Miller - September 16, 2021

Lenny Grossman and Francesca Ravera
Photo by Bjorn Bolinder
We all tell lies, either outright or by a more subtle realignment of the facts. Mostly these are relatively harmless, aimed at protecting others, or more often ourselves, from dealing directly with awkward or uncomfortable situations. But when lying becomes a way of life, when it consumes our every move, then the needle flies past "normal" into the red danger zone. This is the zone that is occupied by the two characters in David Harrower's Blackbird, now being given a thoughtfully directed and grippingly performed revival at the New Ohio Theatre.

Blackbird deals with the toxic fallout from a heinous act of pedophilia, a three-month-long sexual relationship between a 40-year-old man and a 12-year-old girl that took place 15 years before the play opens. It ended (or so it would seem) with the arrest, conviction, and prison term for the man and a lifetime of trauma for the girl.

The two of them have not seen or heard from one another since then. But that all changes when the girl, Una, now a grown woman (here played by Francesca Ravera), shows up at the workplace of the man, Ray, or "Peter" as he now calls himself (Lenny Grossman). It is an act of confrontation that over the course of 90 minutes peals away layers of pain, rage, recrimination, self-doubt, and self-serving mendacity in an attempt to gain some sort of understanding of what exactly did happen in that brief time period that has defined both of their lives ever since.

First produced in 2005 in the playwright's native Scotland, Blackbird holds up exceptionally well, lending itself to many different interpretations as Una and Ray circle, lash out, and attempt to manipulate one another. A 2016 Broadway mounting, directed by Joe Mantello and starring Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams, unraveled itself as an unrelenting act of unchained fury and madness.

But here, director Kim T. Sharp has toned down the histrionics and asks us to pay more attention to the words and to closely watch the two actors who are wrapped up in their endless tango. Una mostly appears to have the upper hand, a perspective that is bolstered by the audience's growing understanding of the long-term anguishing impact of sexual abuse. She has had plenty of time to think about what she wants to say, and she comes off as mostly poised and in control, while Ray seems to be every bit the pathetic zhlub and loser. But his domain is that of a ravenous spider; step into his web of deception at your own caution.

As New York theater inches its way toward a full reblooming with a mix of celebration and caution, look to Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway houses like the New Ohio Theatre as go-to places to find challenging works like Blackbird, mounted with a level of original thinking and professionalism that many a Broadway production would do well to emulate.

Through October 3, 2021
New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street #1E.
Tickets and current Performance Schedule: