FST's Stage III production of Blackbird suffers from a fevered production.
By Kay Kipling
Blackbird, by David Harrower, comes to Florida Studio Theatre’s Stage III with an impressive resume; it received the Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2007, and it’s received good reviews in previous stagings elsewhere. Plus its subject matter and setup seem more than likely to provoke an intensely dramatic evening of theater.
Unfortunately, in this production, Blackbird is nowhere near as effective as it probably can be. The reason is simple enough: Under the direction of Beth Duda, Blackbird (your guess is as good as mine as to where the title comes from; there are several possibilities), starts out at a fever pitch from the opening lines, with rushed dialogue spouted at high volume, leaving it absolutely no room to build to what should be an emotional climax. Instead, there’s a lot of shouting and no nuance, especially in the performance of Dan Patrick Brady as Ray.
Sarah Stockton and Dan Patrick Brady in Blackbird.
Ray is a 50-something, not very successful office manager (at least that’s what we think he is) who’s accosted in the opening scene by the much younger Una (Sarah Stockton) in the litter-filled canteen of his company—a truly distasteful environment. (Duda retains the British base and accents of the original for this production, although it might have been better to go American, since it’s sometimes hard to distinguish Brady’s lines). Una is filled, at first anyway, with a vengeful spirit, and Ray is intimidated by her sudden appearance. Understandably, it seems, since it comes out soon enough that the two shared a brief affair more than a decade ago, when she was only 12 years old—an affair that led to Ray’s spending several years in prison.
Una was in her own kind of prison as well, since she remained in the town and the neighborhood where the shocking news of their relationship filled headlines. She complains to Ray that she felt like a ghost there, and indeed both of them have been haunted by what passed between them even as they’ve tried to build new lives and new relationships.
What is Una after ultimately—a chance to punish Ray or a chance to somehow reconnect with him, in the hope of recapturing her first, forbidden love? For love it was, or so we’re led to believe, not part of a pedophile’s predatory pattern. And Stockton does make us feel at times for Una as she tells Ray and us the story of what happened to her after they spent the night together in a seedy hotel room.
But a play raising such complex, shaded moral questions about our long-held standards of right and wrong needs an equally shaded, carefully paced telling, not one that’s consistently over the top. In the end, after 65 minutes or so of high-pitched confrontation, we come away unsatisfied.
Blackbird continues through May 7 at the Gomperz Theatre; for tickets, call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.