Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

Blackbird and Vivien

Sam Anderson and Corryn Cummins
David Harrower's Blackbird opens on a confrontation. Una, a composed young lady, is confronting Ray, a substantially older man. As the scene unfolds, it turns out that Ray had molested Una; when she was 12 years old, he had sex with her. He was convicted of the crime and served time in prison. After his release, Ray put it all behind him; he moved away, changed his name, found a new job, got himself a girlfriend, and is trying to live his life without any reminders of what did to Una. Una, in contrast, did not move on. She remained in the same city in which she lived when she was victimized, and, as she grew, Una allowed the crime to define her. Now, thanks to a chance glance at a photograph in a magazine, Una has found Ray, and has come to confront him.

What Una wants is a bit of a mystery. Does she want an apology? Revenge? Simply to know that Ray has suffered as much as she has? It isn't clear. What is clear is that Una, as the victim confronting her molester, has the upper hand in this conversation, and she's going to use it. Corryn Cummins gives us an Una who is on the attack; when she asks Ray how many other twelve-year-olds he has fucked, it's very nearly a verbal flaying.

The reason you should see Blackbird is for the amazing performance Sam Anderson gives as Ray—reacting to accusations of the unthinkable acts of which Ray is guilty. Ray initially tries to avoid the confrontation; he asks Una to leave, and even challenges that this woman is the real Una. But Una brushes off his attempts to deflect, and her words leave him emotionally bare—remembering the act, the trial, the imprisonment, the community's hatred ... in short, everything he has tried to escape. Anderson's performance here is devoid of histrionics and beautifully real. His Ray is a man who went to great lengths to convince himself he wasn't a monster, and when Una dredges up his buried past, his reactions run the gamut from acceptance of guilt to denial of evil—sometimes in the same single-word response. It's a performance that comes solidly from the school of "less is more," and in making Ray so honestly human, it is impossible for the audience to simply hate the man for what he did.

Harrower's play helps, in that, while it never excuses what Ray did, it at least tries to explain it. The script does its best to keep the audience off-balance and not exactly clear on where it's going, hiding Una's motives until the end of its single act. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's realistic employee break room, in which the action occurs, aids in creating an environment in which Ray cannot escape the conversation Una needs to have. Robin Larsen's direction, although allowing the dialogue to start off a bit stilted, keeps the tension taut.

Blackbird is not an easy play; in a way, it is similar to Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? in that it takes an unflinching look at a taboo sex act the mere thought of which instantly disgusts. But with Anderson's Ray at the center of it, it is impossible to look away.

Blackbird runs at Rogue Machine Theatre through September 12, 2011. For tickets and information, see

Rogue Machine presents the Los Angeles premiere of Blackbird by David Harrower. Produced by John Perrin Flynn, Matthew Elkins & Edward Tournier. Scenic Design Stephanie Kerley Schwartz; Costume & Graphic Design Jocelyn Hublau Parker; Lighting Design Leigh Allen; Sound Design Christopher Moscatiello; Property Design Ilona Piotrowska; Stage Manager Sasha Sobolevsky; Technical Director David Mauer; Production Manager Amanda Mauer; Assistant Director Darryl Johnson; Fight Choreographer Edgar Landa. Directed by Robin Larsen.

Cast: Ray - Sam Anderson
Una - Corryn Cummins
Girl - Casey Burke
Office Workers - Dana Lyn Baron, Alec Tomkiw

Judith Chapman
Also at Rogue Machine Theatre is the Los Angeles premiere of Vivien, Rick Foster's one-woman show starring Judith Chapman as Vivien Leigh. Foster's play covers Leigh's film and stage successes, the highs and lows (mostly lows) of her marriage to "Larry" (Olivier), and her battles with manic depression—or, as Vivien puts it, the visits from "Miss Mania" and "the Duchess of Darkness."

The play starts promisingly enough. Vivien enters an empty theatre for a read-through of Albee's A Delicate Balance. After initially calling to see if anyone is there, and receiving no answer in reply, Vivien says, "Oh fuck," and we see the veil of "Vivien Leigh" drop for a moment, and Chapman is playing Vivien as a real person, not just the persona of Vivien Leigh. Indeed, Foster's script is well aware of the difference, having Vivien explain to us how she loves dressing rooms because, while she plays roles onstage and plays the role of Vivien Leigh outside the theatre, when she is in a dressing room, she can be anyone, including herself. Since the play takes place in a dressing room, we therefore assume that we're going to see the real Vivien and not simply the role Vivien felt herself obligated to play.

Unfortunately, as directed by Elina de Santos, we rarely see the real Vivien—she's barely present at all until the end of the play. Sure, there are glimpses that she's in there, like when her hand shakes lighting a cigarette while her words are making light of the spot on her lung. But mostly, the Vivien we're seeing on stage is larger than life—overacting each memory, sometimes playing a gracious hostess, sometimes putting on a childlike innocence—and by the time we get a glimpse of the real Vivien, in the grip of Miss Mania, the fake Vivien has worn out her welcome.

Foster's script is enlightening, and Chapman gives the performance her all, but in this particular incarnation, Vivien fails to engage, because Vivien does not let her guard down.

Vivien runs through September 4, 2011 at Rogue Machine Theatre. For tickets and information, see

Rogue Machine and the Troubadours of Daytime present the Los Angeles premiere of Vivien by Rick Foster. Produced by John Perrin Flynn, Elina de Santos, Matthew Elkins & The Troubadours of Daytime. Scenic Design Stephanie Kerley Schwartz; Lighting Design Leigh Allen; Sound Design Chris Moscatiello; Assistant Director William Torres; Graphic Design Benito Juarez; Technical Director David Mauer; Production Manager Amanda Mauer; STage Manager Victoria Watson. Directed by Elina de Santos. Starring Judith Chapman.

Photos: John Flynn

- Sharon Perlmutter

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