JWR Articles: Live Event - Blackbird (Director: Joel Greenberg) - March 25, 2009


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Rubbing the hurt away

The apparent horror of grown men having full-service sex with pre-pubescent girls may be one of the last taboo subjects to become artistic fodder for skilled playwrights.

David Harrower’s through-composed portrait of Una (Jessica Greenberg) and Ray (Hardee T. Lineham) is a brilliantly layered, no-question-left-unasked (but precious few answered) inquisition into a crime whose perpetrators deserve no mercy.

Or do they?

Since last they met at her deflowering fifteen years back, the victim and her oppressor come face to face thanks to a chance glimpse of a trade-journal photograph—at the latter’s place of employment where he toils in an anonymously marked building under a new identity.

Fearing his fellow employees will learn more than anyone bargained for, Una is summarily hustled into the staff lunchroom. The play’s only set (all function and form from designer Michael Gianfrancesco) is a virtual/literal pigsty. Heaps of fast-food containers and losing roll-up-the-rim cups are strewn helter-skelter—the moulding crusts of all-dressed pizza well beyond their best-before dates. What better place for a piece of human garbage to be suddenly lurched back to his horrid past.

Courageously, Una has decided to confront her abuser (eerily similar to Oliver Hirschbiegel’s gripping tale of an IRA assassin reuniting with his victim’s brother, cross-reference below). But why? An attempt at truth and reconciliation? A long overdue revenge fuck by “outing” the convicted molester in his renamed (now Peter Trevelyan) environment? Perhaps, just the one-to-one quest for closure and a chance to finally move on. All, none or mixtures of these could be argued at various stages of the twin remembrances of what really happened ‘lo those many years ago.

Harrower lets his protagonists reveal themselves gradually—surprises abound as the unstintingly graphic acts are laid bare—causing a few in the crowd to head for the exit as the raw truth overwhelmed their personal comfort zones. Just when motives and behaviour seem clear, a spanner is thrown into the dialogue (“I came back for you,” explains Ray) which at various times puzzles, perplexes or revolts. Working through the drafts would make for an intriguing PhD dissertation on the fine arts of character constitution and audience engagement.

The potentially dangerous use of long silences—in one instance, a seemingly interminable electrical blackout that inexplicably left the too-gleaming-by-half vending machine burning brightly in the chamber of trash—defined the notion of stunned reaction spectacularly.

The rest of Kimberly Purtell’s lighting design was the epitome of discretion and effective highlighting. Una’s central, stream-of-consciousness reconstruction of the best/worst night of her young life was knowingly reinforced even as Ray stared trance-like into the audience, temporarily paralyzed by her version of his acts.

Director Joel Greenberg has demonstrated deft understanding of Harrower’s intentions (the business around a shared water bottle—so significant in its statement of trust in the early going—was so well done that it might take a second viewing to glean the message).

Fortunately, the cast are up to the formidable task of depicting people whose lives are forever damaged thanks to uncontrollable emotions, erections and desire to be special.

As Una, Jessica Greenberg delivers a nearly word-perfect portrayal that gains steam and conviction as the scenes progress. A wider range of dynamics—notably in such revelations as feeling ghostlike—would add yet another dimension to this hugely-challenging role.

In a manner that curiously echoes Bruno Ganz’s exceptional portrait of Germany’s most infamous monster (cross-reference below), Lineham smoulders quietly as the family friend who stops at nothing to achieve self satisfaction. Apart from a shared responsibility with Joel Greenberg as to how to handle his soiled shirt, this engrossing performance is at one with the author’s vision, showing ugly deeds as—somehow—just another chilling component of the darker side of human experience.

In the brief, but so important part as Girl, Samantha Somer Wilson is all that could be desired. The coup de grâce is having both women wear hair clips—a subtle bond that, for some, creates shivers. And so the cycle of irredeemable jealousy begins anew ... JWR

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Director - Joel Greenberg
Set and Costume Designer - Michael Gianfrancesco
Lighting Designer - Kimberly Purtell
Sound Designer - Michael Laird
Photographer - John Karastamatis
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