A review by Marylyn Motherbear Scott
“…in this time of #MeToo …, we as a society seem to be looking for absolutes, or clear and perfect boundaries. But such absolutes come at the risk of abandoning empathy and compassion, of believing that change and redemption are never possible … But humans, of whatever age, are complex, often unpredictable, different from each other in both obvious and subtle ways, and human behavior and feelings are unexplainable in rational terms. The heart wants what the heart wants.” — Anne Woodhead, Blackbird program notes
Blackbird. Well-crafted. Well-directed. Well-acted. A tour de force. At its core, a love story, albeit an unusual love story — one in which we unwittingly delve into love’s mystery, into its shadowed corners, its precarious depths, into places we did not know existed. It will stir your heart. And, it will stir your sensibilities.
One act. One set. Two actors taking the stage for 80 minutes. Emily Batterson as Una, in her late twenties, and Dan Kozloff as Ray, in his mid-fifties. Ray seduced Una when she was twelve and he was forty. They have not seen each other since. Ray did jail-time for his crime and when released, he moved away, changed his name and started a new life. Una, still a child, stayed in her home town, re-living her experience, wanting to know more, wanting to tell more. She had searched for Ray, and now, at the start of the play, found him. Emily and Dan bring vivid life to their roles. taking us into the tautness of their relationship, into the gamut of emotions. into their memories.
They meet at Ray’s downscale business “break room”, dirty with food wrappers and trash all over the place. Nothing`orderly about it. It’s a mess, and it’s difficult to discern if anyone is in charge. Perhaps everyone is, at the end of the day, a janitor, picking up the strewn-about pieces of life, trying to clean up the mess. This is the room that playwright David Harrower created.
Blackbird fully explores the hardship and emotional harm done to a girl who was sexualized too early in life. It also explores the mindset of a man who was attracted to this young girl, one who paid a price to society. However, the play is not a simple story of Una and Ray and their inappropriate love affair. Nothing simple about it. Blackbird is a complex tale with larger issues surrounding their experiences. Una and Ray tell it all with a certain ragged and suffering truthfulness. There’s the social system, the systemic issues of family, friends, and neighborhood. The blame and shame. There’s the justice and political system. The assumptions and judgments. All interwoven subtly and significantly into this production of Blackbird.
The actors do not, cannot, achieve this caliber of production without direction. David Harrower, noted Scottish Playwright received the Laurence Olivier Award for Blackbird. A master craftsman, he shaped the tale. Ann Woodhead, the director, fine-tuned it, crafting for the audience, a production for the times in which we live; and a multi-dimensional love story. The heart wants what the heart wants. Ann has directed a telling that goes beyond the simply shocking to something that penetrates our very soul. Surprisingly and somewhat suddenly, in those eighty minutes, what we thought and felt is changed, and changed again, until we find ourselves sitting in our own shadow, our own darkness. Wondering. Wanting. Waiting.
At the end of the play, the familiar Beatles tune by the same name, “Blackbird”, is played instrumentally. I sat through until it ended, recalling the words. They seem appropriate:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You may want to see Blackbird more than once.
Please note: Blackbird runs for only 4 weeks: April 19 — May 13, Thursday through Saturday at 8pm, with four Sunday matinees at 2pm. There will be four Friday evening talk-backs.
Not suitable for children.
For tix, call 707-937-4477 or mendocinotheatre.org/.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This year’s theme is Embrace your voice. This play does just that.