South Stream Productions has another hit on its hands with Blackbird, a powerful examination of an inappropriate relationship between Ray, a 40-year-old man, and Una, a 12-year-old child, who was the daughter of a neighbor. From the first scene, the audience is uncomfortably riveted as these two characters navigate through an extremely awkward encounter many years after their sexual relationship was discovered.
We learn that Ray was imprisoned for his acts. Once released, he changed his name and tried to start over. He appears to be a changed man. But is he? Una stayed in the town and suffered through the stares and whispers endemic of living in a small town. So, many years later, Una — who is now a grown woman — arrives unannounced at Ray’s place of employment. Having seen Ray’s picture in the newspaper, she now arrives at Ray’s workplace as an adult searching for answers, as a woman searching for closure.
Initially, Ray is horrified by Una’s arrival. He does not want a reunion. He is petrified. He does not want to speak with Una. He leaves the conference-room door cracked open, a man worried about the consequences of being in this room, alone, with this young woman. We learn that he has a girlfriend. He has changed his name to start over. He has a decent job. He is grateful for his current position. He is worried about more trouble.
Una, for her part, has been unable to move on. She has had a series of meaningless sexual relationships. She is angry, furious, yet hoping for answers. As the two start to unwind the past, we slowly hear each of their recollections. She calls him a predator. He calls her precocious. Listening to Ray’s justification for their relationship — his pointing out the she had pursued him, her admission that she wanted to be his girlfriend, the notes that she sent, his dawning realization about his feelings, and ultimately their flight to a hotel room in another town — we almost believe his innocent explanations.
We want to believe him, just as Una wants to believe that theirs was more than just a sordid, horrific catastrophe. Yet our rational, disgusted selves scream, “No! A 12-year-old girl can’t pursue a 40-year-old man! No! You cannot blame the victim! No! You cannot claim that you loved her to justify your having slept with her!” And yet, Ray is likeable. He is believable. He is contrite. He claims that he is not a pedophile. He is “not like them.” But can we possibly allow him to rationalize this whole tragedy away?
The beauty of playwright David Harrower’s treatment of this subject is that he takes all of the judgment away and allows the audience into the hearts of these damaged people. Both characters doubt what happened, yet both see the past with fresh eyes, and both understand that each has suffered and been punished for their transgressions. But can they move on? Do they want to?
Katie Barrett as Una and John Honeycutt as Ray are simply superb. They walk the razor-thin line of love and fear, accusation and acceptance, passion and resolve. Director Brook North coaxes nuanced performances from both, and they do the parts justice.
We also must give a nod to the lighting and set designers. Alyssa Petrone’s lighting dramatically and poignantly focuses on Una when she explains the night of passion that would ultimately change both of their lives. Todd Houseknecht’s set, littered with lunchroom trash, easily mirrors the mess that was left behind in the aftermath of their sexual relationship.
A plate-glass window behind the action shows fuzzy images of passersby who may or may not be listening to their coversation. It’s the fear of discovery, the fear of people finding out, the shame of what happened that looms large throughout their meeting. It was the perfect touch to a clandestine meeting.
We know that this is heavy stuff, but it is not often that you find yourself wondering if your own notions of right and wrong are misguided. And as you try to suss out whether Ray is a man who made a mistake or merely a monster, you question your own instincts, even as you know that there is no excuse for his actions. None. But then, hearing his persuasive explanation, you keep asking yourself, was Una duped? Is she still being duped? Are you being duped? Is this a redemption story or simply a horror story?
This journey is one to take with these two skilled actors. You will be talking about it and thinking about it long after the curtain falls.
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 4th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/blackbird/Event?oid=5093517. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 7th Triangle Review review by Dustin K. Britt and the Jan. 7th review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/01/south-stream-productions-blackbird-is-an-emotional-roller-coaster/ and http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/01/john-honeycutt-and-katie-barrett-give-tour-de-force-performances-in-south-streams-blackbird/, respectively.)
South Stream Productions presents BLACKBIRD at 3 p.m. Jan. 8, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12-14, 3 p.m. Jan. 15, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19-21, 3 p.m. Jan. 22 at Sonorous Road Theatre, 209 Oberlin Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27605.
TICKETS: $20 ($16 students and seniors).
BOX OFFICE: 919-803-3798 or https://sonorousroadtheatre.com/get-tickets.
SHOW: http://southstreamproductions.blogspot.com/p/blackbird-by-david-harrower.html, https://www.facebook.com/events/1152773561474370/, and https://sonorousroadtheatre.com/blackbird/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1284004843/blackbird-by-david-harrower-0.
NEWS RELEASES: http://southstreamproductions.blogspot.com/.
PRESENTER: http://southstreamproductions.blogspot.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/SouthStreamProductions/.
VENUE: https://sonorousroadtheatre.com/, https://www.sonorousroad.com/, https://www.facebook.com/sonorousroad/, and https://twitter.com/sonorousroad.
Blackbird (2005 Edinburgh International Festival play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=3892 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackbird_(play) (Wikipedia). The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
David Harrower (Scottish playwright and screen writer): https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/david-harrower (British Council | Literature), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3017670/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Harrower (Wikipedia).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.