I’ve just returned from seeing Blackbird at Victory Gardens Theatre on north Lincoln Avenue. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the play, it stars William L. Petersen (yes, of CSI fame) and Mattie Hawkinson. The story is about two people who had a relationship 15 years ago that has defined their lives ever since. Ray, at age 40, had a sexual relationship with Una, who was only 12 years old at the time.
Playwright David Harrower commented in the Playbill, “I want to know what it’s like to be in that situation and to justify it to yourself.”
It is an intense play, running between one and 1.5 hours. The set is appropriate, minimal and utilitarian, yet provides a backdrop for a bit of comic relief borne of 15 years of built up issues. What makes this so interesting is that we hear both Ray and Una constantly confront each other and tell what they believe was the reality of their experiences those 15 years ago, as each fills in the gaps for the other.
Oddly some of the funniest comic relief came before the play, as Petersen reminded the audience to shut off all cell phones and pagers, and to unwrap all candy wrappers. So while most people would make sure they quieted down, the woman next to me seemed to take that as her cue to then proceed to rifle through her purse for what seemed like an endless amount of time. I was ready to tell her, “Enough already!”
Like most traumatic experiences, often only pieces are remembered by each person. During the course of the play and the ensuing confrontations, a gradual truth begins to emerge. Whether one feels the need to judge others, or they prefer to assess the events that transpired without judgement, you cannot leave the theatre without feeling like you have witnessed two people struggling to understand themselves, their feelings for each other in the past, their actions and where they are in the present.
Blackbird provides a look at how the intersection of two people’s lives changed forever with one event, and not only how Una, the victim continued to suffer but also the mental and emotional effects that Ray’s actions had on himself. The play is also not without a surprise toward the end, which is fitting when one considers the complex range of issues and emotions that are brought to bear during the play.
Sean and I attended the play, and he summarized the concept well when he said, “As a man, I cannot understand how anyone could get themselves involved with a 12 year old child.” That, dear reader, is the crux of the issue with any case of child sexual abuse and under aged sex. Some people have no sense of boundaries.
As for the acting and direction, everything was superb. It was an incredible experience to see William Petersen live, and a joy to watch up and coming star Mattie Hawkinson.
Victory Gardens Theatre
2423 N. Lincoln Avenue