by Lynn on December 6, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Arscape, Youngspace 180 Shaw Street, Toronto, Ont.

Written by David Harrower
Directed by David Ferry
Production and lighting by David Ferry.
Starring: Sarah Booth
David Ferry

A gripping, explosive production of an unsettling play.

The Story. Blackbird by David Harrower is about an affair that ended badly. Una and Peter had an affair fifteen years before. It was passionate, consensual and lasted about three months before Peter broke it off. Now 15 years later Una tracks him down to find out why it ended. Una is now 27 and Peter is now 55.

I’ll wait while people do the math. That is correct. At the time of the affair, Una was 12 and Peter was 40. Are we talking about pedophilia? I think that’s one of the many questions Harrower throws out there. He calls the play a “love story.” I don’t doubt him.
Society sure thought it was pedophilia and sent Peter to prison. He served his time; changed his name to Ray—the text lists him as Ray and Una now refers to him as Ray; got a job and went about his life. Una was also in a prison of her own. She remained in that town with her parents and endured strange looks from people. All her relationships failed. She loved only one person and that was the man she knew as Peter. She saw his photo in a magazine as part of a team in a business and tracked him down.

He is mortified to see her. They dredge up the past. They met at a family bbq. Una’s father invited Ray—he was a neighbour. He went but didn’t know anyone. Una was there and was scowling and unhappy. So he went up to talk to her. She liked him and pursued him. He thought of her often after that. The relationship went from there until he ended it, sort of with a little help from being arrested and sent to trial. And now she wants answers about what happened and I think to rekindle the relationship.

The Production. It’s explosive. We are in a lunch-room of some industrial building. It’s filthy. Garbage overflows the garbage cans. As we get to our seats, waiting for the show to begin, the song, “Young Girl, Get Outta My Mind” is playing. A home movie is projected on the back wall of the space, of a young girl frolicking on the beach, mugging for the camera. There is an older, handsome man also in the movie, smoking, or joshing with the girl. We don’t know who they are. And they don’t seem to be the actor or actress who will perform the play.

When the play begins Ray (David Ferry) is on one side of the room, tense, frightened, anxious, and Una (Sarah Booth) is on the other side, combative, angry, challenging. He is in a white shirt, no tie, sleeves rolled up with a cell phone on his belt. She is in a dress with a high hem; heels.

Ray seems to have some custodial job there although he is reluctant to admit it. He is skittish about being in the presence of this woman. As Ray, David Ferry’s voice is quiet and very controlled. He seems one tight muscle. As Una, Sarah Booth focuses on Una’s pent up anger that has been seething for 15 years. She also plays on Una’s womanly wiles. She knows how to play a man—in this case Ray—and put him on the defensive.
There is anger on both sides too.

David Ferry the director has Ray keep as far away from Una as he can. They circle each other but keep their distance until later in the play when their emotions erupt. They have a knock down fight that is dangerous it’s so convincing. And there is mutual lust and passion—they cannot help themselves even though Ray is desperate to try. I love the immediacy, urgency and danger of this production.

I do have some quibbles. To begin with, those home movies that are projected on the wall make my eyebrows knit. A beach scene of a young girl frolicking. An older man smoking a cigarette. Later both of them at a b-b-q; the man is relaxed and the girl is mugging to the camera. The problem is that we don’t know who they are. They are introduced before the play puts them in context. Also, if one does know the actors one knows the people in the film are not Una and Ray. So who are they and why begin the production with confusion?

Later in one of the more tense scenes, David Ferry has music playing to underscore the scene. I find that distracting. At first I thought it was a cell phone. I just want to focus and be held by that scene and not distracted by anything else. As I said, quibbles….the rest is gripping, explosive, uncomfortable, as good theatre should be.

Comment. Is playwright David Harrower making value judgements? Is the play about pedophilia? I think he’s leaving it up to us. He’s not shying away from showing the damage to both Una and Ray of such a relationship. But he also muddies the waters by having Una really love Ray even now 15 years later. The love is of a 27 year old woman not a kid of 12. And Ray also looses his control and falls into that passionate pit again and want Una now as a 27 year old.

The play and production leave us with a lot to chew over and think hard about.

Produced by SoundBooth

Opened: Dec. 3, 2014
Closes. Dec. 11, 2014
Cast: 2; 1 man, 1 woman
Running Time: 90 minutes

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