Blackbird (Review)

Playhouse drama is a winner

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Critic's Pick

Sexual contact between an adult and a child is always and automatically abusive. Or is it?

Unsettling questions and uncertain answers take the stage at Cincinnati Playhouse in director Michael Evan Haney’s flawless production of Blackbird, the 2005 David Harrower script that first met approving audiences in the Edinburgh Theatre Festival and then moved to London where it won an Olivier Award, the English theater's equivalent of a Tony.

[Read Rick Pender's interview with Haney about Blackbird here.]

Una (Joy Farmer-Clary) was 12 years old when Ray (John Ottavino), then 40, seduced her. Or did he? After pursuing a sexual relationship for three months, he abandoned her in a seaside guesthouse. Or did he?

Years later, when Una tracks Ray down and confronts him in a blindingly fluorescent, garbage-strewn lunchroom at the factory where he works, what is she seeking? Revenge? Redemption? Or renewal of a relationship?

No simple answers are offered. Neither Una nor Ray know what they want from each other, even when a tricky surprise ending raises a new set of questions.

Two things about Blackbird are not in question. First, the play delves a particular relationship between two complex individuals, taking no position on the difficult issues within which it functions. Metaphoric extensions are left to audience members. Secondly, from the moment Una and Ray run screaming onto Kevin Rigdon's ice-hearted set, it's evident that playmaking of a very high order is taking place.

Farmer-Clary and Ottavino, both new to the Playhouse, are perfectly cast, sensitively directed and clearly equal to the intellectual and emotional demands of these complicated roles. Una must underpin slutty behavior that she blames on her too early seduction with an air of lingering innocence and the certainty that she did some of the original seducing. Within his remorse and his anger at her intrusion into his new, post-prison life, Ray must make clear that his behavior toward her was personal, an individual attraction not an exhibition of generalized pedophilia. Both succeed brilliantly.

BLACKBIRD, presented by Cincinnati Playhouse, continues through March 8. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.

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