- Courtesy of Suellen Fitzsimmons
- Hurt lockers: Steve Pickering and Robin Abramson in Blackbird, at City Theatre.
You may think you know what Blackbird is about, but you probably never really will, even after seeing City Theatre's excellent production of David Harrower's 2007 Olivier Award-winner for Best New Play.
City's own description -- that it's about facing "the shattering consequences of ... a scandalous affair" 15 years earlier -- is misleading, as each layer peeled back (think skin, not onions) reveals more plot twists and more scars. And one can't discuss the latter without giving away, and thus spoiling, the former.
Harrower hammers the audience. First there's the lack of subtlety in naming his characters Una (female "one") and Peter (must I explain?). But mainly, the playwright hacks away at preconceptions about childhood, responsibility, sexual awareness and passion ... plus a few more topics that will probably keep people arguing for far longer than the play's spare 80 minutes.
Director Stuart Carden places the audience on opposite sides of the stage in City's Lester Hamburg black-box space, effectively rubbing their faces in the agonies to come. The setting, a disheveled "break room" in an anonymous suburban office block, perfectly portrays the sordidness of the everyday (kudos to scenic designer Tony Ferrieri) as it provides an arena for the combatants, er, characters. Indeed, actors Robin Abramson and Steve Pickering approach each other as warily as prizefighters, deftly sparring before ripping into each other. The metaphor is meant verbally, but the dialogue is matched with an intensifying physicality.
The intimate staging is strengthened by a solid production team that includes: Crystal Gomes (costumes); Andrew David Ostrowski (lighting); Brad Peterson (sound); and Niki Armato (stage manager).
Abramson, in a wide-eyed portrayal, embodies the woman still mixed up with her 12-year-old self. Pickering captures how his character both complements and conflicts with hers. He's a seemingly ordinary, unremarkable guy who secretly wrestles with the darkest of sins. Who wins?
The two characters move from self-deception, or at least a lack of self-awareness, to new insights on oft-revisited pain. Indeed, Blackbird revels in pain. In interviews, Harrower tells the story of St. Benedict resisting sexual temptation, visited upon him by a black bird, by wallowing in nettles and thorns to lacerate his naked flesh. And there you have a fair description of this play.
Blackbird continues through Dec. 13. City Theatre, Bingham at 13th Street, South Side. 412-431-2489 or citytheatrecompany.org