David Harrower’s play Blackbird, currently at Theatre Inconnu, brings to light the morally complicated lives of two individuals, linked previously in a power-imbalanced relationship when the female protagonist was 12.
Now 27, Una (Jess Amy Shead) tracks down Ray (Graham McDonald), and confronts her abuser.
What follows is a tense, staccato exchange where sympathies ebb and flow. Harrower’s dialogue has been compared to Mamet’s, and Blackbird to Oleanna. Written more than a decade apart, they are both outstanding examples of theatre’s attempt to express society’s changing values on the ages-old practice of sex in power-imbalanced situations (with minors, students, subordinates).
Harrower, a Scot, states that he was loosely inspired by the story of Toby Studebaker, a former U.S. Marine, who abducted a 12-year-old British girl in 2003 after grooming her via the Internet and was jailed for four and a half years.
The set consists of one bright claustrophic room, riddled with the detritus of staff lunches, from which there is no escape. Sartre in Huit Clos defined hell in these terms, and it’s easy to see that Una and Ray may be trapped in the same type of repetitive and destructive behaviour.
As audience, we want to vilify Ray for his former actions, but Una’s initial strong attack sends him reeling, and our resolve weakens. What follows for the next 90 minutes is a game of cat-and-mouse, of surprising revelations that take the characters and audience by surprise, building to a troubling conclusion that I cannot reveal for fear of spoiling all the dramatic impact.
Why do we do what we do? When is it time to put a stop to actions that must lead to terrible conclusions? Who is immune from improper desire?
Blackbird’s strength lies in the fact that we all must deal with temptation, and we have all succumbed. For most of us, there is no devastation. Such is not the case for Una and Ray.
Sheed is by turns terrifying, lustful, tender and funny. Biting her nails and applying lip gloss one moment, and becoming furious hellion the next, she commands the stage.
Theatre Inconnu has never been afraid to bring controversial topics to Victoria audiences. Director Graham McDonald once again rises to the challenge with this timely and tautly rendered drama. During the run, he hopes to facilitate a talk-back for audience members.
As of opening, Graham McDonald will be playing the role of Ray.
Blackbird by David Harrower directed by Graham McDonald
Theatre Inconnu (Little Fernwood Hall, 1923 Fernwood Road)
October 5 – 20th
Tickets $14/$10. Wednesday Oct 10th is Pay What You Can.
Purchase tickets at Ticket Rocket, online, by phone 250 590 6291, or in person.
Jess Amy Shead as Una
Graham McDonald as Ray
Directed by Graham McDonald
Assistant Director Naomi Simpson
Stage Management April Mackey
Painting by April Mackey
Graphic Design Janice Hildybrant
I am a season pass holder to Theatre Inconnu. As always, I maintain all editorial control of the content published on my blog.