Review: Victory Garden’s “Blackbird”

 

Blackbird confrontation

Blackbird

a play by David Harrower

Reviewed by Timothy McGuire

The much anticipated dramatic play Blackbird, staring William Peterson and Mattie Hawkinson is indeed quite disturbing; it gives humanity to both a child molester and his victim as their characters are presented on stage un-judged by the author David Harrower.

blackbird_mattie&william David Harrower has written a soul-stirring play that shows the complexity of human emotions and the struggle we have with guilt and being honest with ourselves. David Harrower does not try to justify Ray’s action nor is in favor of abolishing the age limit for sexual maturity, he sees his work as more of a metaphor for questioning other social norms. Harrower lets the characters stumble through their emotions, not demonizing or giving false purity to either character. Both characters show their humanity, with flaws and wrongful desires along with kindness and love. How horrible a crime was committed is left to the audience to think about and decide, Ray and Una struggle on stage to find that out for themselves.

Fifteen years ago when Ray was in his forties, he befriended a twelve year old girl Una. After serving three years in prison for child abduction, he has painfully put together a new life. After seeing a picture of Ray in a magazine at her doctor’s office Una has come to confront her past assailant. In Ray’s empty office cafeteria the emotional confrontation between them goes in unexpected directions as the molester and victim meet, or possibly it is past lovers meeting again.

blackbird_arguing William Peterson sucks the life out of his character to portray a beat-down Ray just fighting to get from day to day. Peterson’s ability to darken his emotions and stumble with the confidence to express himself is extraordinary. The choices Ray made in his past were absolutely wrong, but what was his motive? How did he let himself form a relationship with a twelve year old girl? William Peterson captures Ray’s inner struggle with the guilt of his actions and the justifications he believes means something.

William Peterson is a star, but this show belongs to Mattie Hawkinson.

Ms. Hawkinson, capturing her character’s poised and nervous state, came on to the stage as Una and through out her personal conversation with Ray keeps the audience glued to her with their attention. With just two characters in most of the play, Mattie proves that she belonged on stage with the best of them. After watching my favorite actor (William Peterson) the first comment I had when I left the theatre was “Get ready for Mattie Hawkinson.” This should be a break out performance to a great career.

blackbird meetingThe set, a cold, desolate cafeteria, was designed by Dean Taucher, and he presents a set that, thought simplistic, is actually very detailed. The remains of coworkers’ lunches are left strewn about, just another mess in the typical unfinished cleaning-up that takes place in a cafeteria. The room that earlier in the day was busy with people and filled with life is now completely empty until the next morning, like the void that fills both Una and Ray’s heart since their earlier relationship. The setting never leaves the office cafeteria and the time of the day expels a creepy lonesome feeling. It seems strange a victim of a sexual crime would meet her predator there.

Blackbird won the Olivier Award (Britain’s equivalent of a Tony Award) for best new play in 2007, beating out tough competition with plays such as Peter Morgan’s “Frost/Nixon” and Tom Stoppard’s” Rock and Roll.” Making its Chicago premier at Victory Gardens, Director Dennis Zacek allows the unique text and talented actors carry the one act conversation.

Blackbird possesses that unique quality found in theatre of presenting a topic that forces the audience to an uncomfortable edge, as their skin crawls with the thought of empathizing with ideas that go against their moral core. It forces you to question the most reviled actions in society, leading one to question personal crimes you have committed and how it would play out if you were confronted with the past fifteen years later.

Rating: «««½

Where: Victory Gardens Theatre
When: Thru – Aug 9, 2009
Tickets: $30-$58, Box Office: 773-871-3000

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Theater Thursday: "The History Boys" at TimeLine

Thursday, April 23

The History Boys by Alan Bennett

TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave.

Take a trip to England with TimeLine Theatre! First, help us welcome our new neighbor, Firkin & Pheasant, to Lakeview East and enjoy some great atmosphere and a historyboysselection of light hors d’oeuvres and drinks with TimeLine artists. Then it’s off to TimeLine to be among the first in Chicago to see Alan Bennett’s worldwide theatrical sensation in its highly anticipated local premiere. The recipient of more than 30 major awards, including Tony and Olivier awards for Best New Play, The History Boys follows a rambunctious group of clever young men as they pursue higher learning, games, sexual identity and a place at university under the guidance of three wildly different teachers and a headmaster obsessed with results. Set during the 1980s in northern England, it is a hilarious and provocative play about the anarchy of adolescence and the purpose of education, specifically, how history should be taught.

Event begins at 6 p.m. at Firkin and Pheasant, 670 W. Diversey

Show begins at 7:30 p.m.
TICKETS ONLY $30
For reservations call 773.281.8463 x24 and mention “Theater Thursdays.”

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All Theater Thursday postings sponsored by this fine entertainment accessory retailer.

Cousin Itt coming to Broadway in Chicago!

A family shot of the popular 60's sitcom, "The Addams Family"Yep, you read right.  The creepy yet lovable Addams family is getting a musical of their own, courtesy of Broadway in Chicago.  Making its world premier here in Chicago at the Oriental Theatre (aka Ford Center for the Performing Arts), The Addams Family – A New Musical will begin its pre-Broadway run in November 2009.

Like many other Gen X-ers, I grew up watching “The Addams Family” after school, my favorite characters being mother Morticia and the oh-so-hairy gibberish-speaking Cousin Itt. (and, yes, being an avid crossword enthusiast, “Itt” is spelled with 2 t’s!).

Judging from the creative team, this show has a lot of promise: composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa (The Wild Party), choreographer Sergio Trujillo (The Jersey Boys), and Olivier Award-winning director/designers Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch (Shockheaded Peter). 

By the way, does anyone know what these original Addams Family actors are up to now?