Theatre Review: ‘Blackbird’ at 7 Stages

Photo by Lola Scott

7 Stages is currently offering David Harrower’s “Blackbird,” a play that won London’s Oliver Award for Best Play in 2007 and enjoyed both Off-Broadway and Broadway (2016) runs, the latter starring Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels.

The production, which runs through Oct. 14 in the Black Box Theatre, is actually being independently produced by Rebeca Robles, who also plays one of the two lead roles, and directed by Rebekah Suellau, who helmed the acclaimed Catalyst Arts Atlanta show “Gruesome Playground Injuries” last spring and was reviewed by this paper.

“Blackbird” is an 85-minute adult drama of criminal love: 15 years ago a 40-year-old man named Ray (Robert Bryan Davis) had a three months statutory sexual relationship with a 12-year-old girl named Una (Rebeca Robles). (Incidentally, Director Suellau says the production is partnering with the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy.)

Ray served time for his crime, moved to another town, and changed his name. But the now 27-year-old Una has seen his photo in a magazine ad for a new job, driven to his new town, and shows up at his place of business; he appears to have a custodial position. She demands that they talk.

If you’re thinking this is a set-up for a seismic confrontation, you’re correct. But it’s not the explosion you may think, especially at first. They meet in an office snack room.

Should the door be closed or partially open? They can’t decide as each of them begins to size up the situation and each other. The air fairly hums with tension; you can sense Una’s anger and Ray’s extreme uncertainty, but their emotions are far more complex than that.

Rebeca Robles as Una and Robert Bryan Davis as Ray in Blackbird. (Photo by Corryn Lytle)

Their dialogue begins in fits and starts, with lots of cut-off sentences and self-interruptions. Una registers anger, confusion, curiosity and even a residual attachment (of sorts) to Ray, whom she loved, believed he loved her, and was then left by a panicked Ray one night in a motel. There are no lighthearted moments in this play.

What the audience is overwhelmingly aware of is the nightmarish, unending, life-changing nature of such an occurrence in the lives of two human beings: especially the young victim. But of course both lives are forever changed.

Ms. Suellau writes that in “Blackbird” “judgments are shaken loose, and we find new room for empathy,” and she calls the play “a courageously compassionate exploration of humanity.” But she certainly doesn’t mean there are any easy answers, for there aren’t.

“Why are you here? What do you want?” These are Ray’s opening lines to Una, and I don’t think either she or the audience has any pat answers. Instead, we sit, nervously awaiting the next crescendo of dialogue or movement, or the next uncomfortable pause, as they face each other from opposite sides of the room—at the beginning. Then they get closer. The ending is quite stunning, and I shall not reveal it. Ms. Suellau has done a meticulous job directing highly sensitive material.

Needless to say, this play is undoable without two expert actors, and Ms. Robles and Mr. Davis do not disappoint. Both are experienced professionals, with extensive stage, television, and film credits. You may remember Mr. Davis most recently from his Suzi Award-nominated performance in Actors’ Express’ “The Crucible.” And I look forward to seeing more of Ms. Robles’ work; she’s recently returned from a stay in New York.

Addelyn Esposito, a young actress, makes an important, impressive appearance in “Blackbird.”

I’ve known ever since I saw Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story” many years ago the unique power and intimacy of a two-character powerhouse, intimate play. Take a deep breath and go.

For tickets and information, visit 7Stages.org.

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