Monday, March 28, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: Blackbird


A Black, Dark, Uncomfortable Visit to the World of Child Abuse
By Lauren Yarger
Jeff Daniels and Director Joe Mantello resume their roles in the Broadway production of David Harrower’s dark and disturbing play Blackbird, an uncomfortable visit to the world of child abuse and its horrifying effects.

Michelle Williams, known mostly for film and TV roles, who starred in the recent Broadway revival of Cabaret plays Una, a woman who confronts her abuser 15 years later. She sees Ray in a photo and tracks him down.

Ray (Daniels) isn’t happy to find Una at his work place (an office break room designed by Scott Pask provides the setting). He changed his name, has a good job and has been getting along with a normal life following his three years in prison for having sexual relations with Una when she was 12. He’s even got a serious girlfriend now and things couldn't be better. So why has Una shown up to stir things up now? (The play’s title, while certainly a metaphor for any number of bad things associated with black birds, literally also is a term used by the British as we use the word “jailbird.”)

Una, it’s painfully obvious, hasn’t been doing too well in the interim since the trial.. She is wounded, mentally, and has come to confront Ray about what he did. In many ways, she still seems childlike, as though she hasn’t been able to get beyond the experience. She insists that they need to talk about what happened.

As the conversation unfolds, we discover that not all is as it seems and the relationship between the man and the little girl who idolized him is far more complicated than we can imagine. The drama is intense and we become increasingly uncomfortable as they reveal the extent of their feelings about what happened and why it happened. Our sympathies change several times as Harrower drives us over some twists in the plot road – made all the more frightening by the fact that the play is inspired by a true story.

In the end, we’re distressed by being in the same room with these two tortured, destructive souls, but we find ourselves strapped to our seats in this emotional rollercoaster by the gripping psychological dialogue. Daniels' performance is intense and his angst is palpable. We’re never sure we can trust Ray or believe that he has changed. Is he a creepy pedophile or a guy who just made some really poor choices? An unexpected development makes the answer even harder.

Williams seems more awkward wrapping around her role, encountering difficulty in trying to juggle the balance between being a survivor and a willing victim; between being an innocent and a smart manipulator.

The 90-minute trip into darkness premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival before moving on to London’s West End where it won the Olivier Award for Best New Play in a production. Later Daniels starred opposite Allison Pill in an Off-Broadway production of the play helmed by Mantello.

Blackbird circles at the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th St., NYC through June 11. Performance times vary. Tickets are $39-$145: 800-432-7250; blackbirdbroadway.com; (212) 239-6200.

More information:
Additional credits:
Costume Design by Ann Roth, Lighting Design by Brian MacDevitt, Sound Design by Fitz Patton.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Sexual activity
-- Explicitly sexual dialogue

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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