4.7 Hot The Necessary Theatre’s production of Harrower’s BLACKBIRD chills with details, yet it commands our attention. Its audiences sit back and witness how its two characters try to settle the scores, that by the end, you’d realize that the journey has been worth it. Though this one seems to paint a different picture of abuse, we soon ask ourselves newer questions and embrace varying perspectives of the human heart and its destined betrayal.
BLACKBIRD investigates the curiously unfamiliar dynamics between the abuser and the abused. It comes with a form that strategically draws a kind of perturbing dance between two people who have been so entwined at some point in their lives, and paints what might happen if they meet again.
This is a story about a man, a woman and a door. Both have been through tough times, brought about by their choices from years ago. And tonight, they meet again, retracing the memories of their past choices and digging answers to questions left hanging for more than a decade.
Fifteen years ago, 40-year-old Ray had a relationship with Una who was then a young girl of 12. Soon after, Ray got caught, tried and sentenced to 5 years in prison. Flash-forward to today, Una sees Ray’s photo in a trade magazine and gathered up the courage to give him a visit in his office. After more than 15 years the two meet and try to give answers to questions that have haunted them.
Both abruptly enter the door. Una and Ray, at first, glance at each other, startle and unbelieving, wondering if all is a dream. And then the battle emerges.
The Necessary Theatre’s production of this Laurence Olivier award winning piece offers more than just entertainment. Under the direction of Topper Fabregas, Playwright David Harrower’s discourse on abuse and relationships takes center stage in a 90-minute in-you-face powwow that will make you question your own viewpoints on love, relationships, betrayal and abuse.
Joey Mendoza’s set design sketches a well-lighted rectangular space, littered with pantry and office junk. At some point, you’d ask if this is an office at all, and if so, who allowed such mess in a workplace. Mendoza’s design paves a careful preparation for the audiences, sprinkling a few hidden hints of a messy past of the two characters that are about to take center stage. As early as the first minutes in your seat, you’d feel a certain level of discomfort, silently preparing you for whatever lies ahead.
John Batalla dismisses the trivial design for his lights, whitewashing Mendoza’s set with an unapologetic luminance, and it works. Seldom do we see such everyday radiance in our stages today, and Batalla’s design instantly draws the audience to an unfeigned representation of how colourlessly plain our world really is.
And Fabregas’ direction is undeviating as Harrower’s narrative. In its first few minutes, Fabregas choreographs a spasmodic stichomythia depicting two characters in an erratic duet. He regulates with careful direction to emphasize what needs to be in focus, strategically showcasing this unlikely dance between two torn characters.
Bart Guingona’s Ray enters as an indifferently cautious man in his late 50s, and we can’t blame him. He has paid the price for what he did many years back, and such pending confrontation with a horrible mistake from the past is something that he doesn’t need anymore. Guingona is at his best here, breathing life into Ray’s paranoia and cautious persona. He stutters, fidgets, and squirms with a silent denial of the past and the choices he made.
Mickey Bradshaw-Volante shines as the pensively damaged Una. She enters with a certain level of power over Ray, curiously posing as an ambiguous menace to a man she can no longer threaten. But she continues on, consequently uncapping Ray’s lid to have him expose what has been in his mind all these years. For years, Una have gone through the consequences brought about by her relationship with Ray, and Bradshaw-Volante makes it a point to present a still damaged woman.
Curiously enough, Harrower’s discourse veers away from the common constructs that we have on the subject of abuse. We soon learn that the 12-year-old Una fell in love with the 40-year old Ray some 15 years ago, thus making both equal players in a forbidden affair. Whose fault it was, is a question that we can put on the table. Was it Ray, because he surrendered to a compulsion? Or was it Una, because she easily gave in?
Of course, our societies tell us that abuse is abuse, and there’s no other way to paint a brighter picture. But Harrower’s characters clearly show the flip side, offering a different take on the matter where one man surrenders to the chance, and the developing woman innocently offers a blind consent.
Apart from this, what I find at the core BLACKBIRD is the need for closure, and Harrower makes certain that this echoes in his themes. From the milieu’s perspective, what happened 15 years ago is arguably a thing of the past, and what matters is the here-and-now. Una gathered the strength to confront Ray, not just to blame him, but to also find answers to questions she never got answers for. As Ray pushes the other one away, Una pulls him back to remember and complete the missing pieces.
Remember the third character? The door? It serves both as a compelling witness and symbolizes Ray and Una’s continuing choice to either leave or stay. But both linger on. Perhaps they both need answers. Or a release. Perhaps the answers would give both a rare sense of absolution, a chance to tidy up the bursting trash that has been with them all these time.
Throughout BLACKBIRD, we see different forms of abuse, however unlikely – yet equally disparaging. Harrower’s 90-minute stichomythia ends with something similar that happened 15 years back. It echoes the core of Ray and Una’s initial tragedy (or affair, if you may), however this time, we witness it first-hand. In its final minutes, we feel how painful it is for them to repeat the same tragedy all over again. Unlike Paula Vogel’s HOW I LEARNED HOW TO DRIVE, this one offers a more bitting finale. And as the lights turn off to the two of them, we see another form of abuse that comes with betrayal.
The Necessary Theatre’s production of Harrower’s BLACKBIRD chills with details, yet it commands our attention. Its audiences sit back and witness how its two characters try to settle the scores, that by the end, you’d realize that the journey has been worth it. Though this one seems to paint a different picture of abuse, we soon ask ourselves newer questions and embrace varying perspectives of the human heart and its destined betrayal.