Hyde Park Theatre, through Oct. 11
Running time: 1 hr, 20 min
A lot of the publicity for Blackbird has said very little about the plot for fear of giving away the surprise. That surprise shows up only 10 minutes into the play, however. Nobody in the audience left early on the night I attended, so here goes.
As the lights come up, we see that Una has just shown up at Ray's workplace. He's shocked to see her. They had an affair 15 years ago, and they haven't seen each other since. Catch: There's an obvious age discrepancy between the two actors. Una (Xochitl Romero) looks about 25. Ray (Hyde Park Theatre Artistic Director Ken Webster) is something like 40 or 50. That would mean ... mid-20s minus 15 ... mental math ... uh oh. Miscasting?
Nope. Great casting. Ray committed statutory rape of a minor when Una was 12. Surprise!
Well, Ray is surprised, anyway. We now have 70 minutes to go in which Una shall dig, dig, dig at Ray to learn why he did what he did and what went wrong to ruin her life. Ray will dig back at her, then dig deep inside himself to come up with an answer for any of it. If you believe him, he doesn't really know what happened, even after all this time. He attempts to answer Una's questions, but satisfaction is hard to come by.
Audience members can decide for themselves how they feel about the humanizing of a child molester. Critically speaking, though, the script just doesn't hold water. Why would a victim hear about her abuser 15 years later, then track him down so she can spend time alone in a room with him? Why would she wear some very sexy high heels to do it? Every person processes trauma in his or her own way, but the script doesn't show how or why Una became the sort of person who would put herself through hell a second time just to get a few answers.
Furthermore, the script has some structural faults. The aforementioned surprise arrives so soon that there is little momentum to get through the rest of the show. The damage has already been done, and it's hard to feel strongly about the human consequences of blowing Ray's cover in his new life. Playwright David Harrower also writes himself into a corner more than once, with nothing to do but lurch to another subject or else end the play.
This isn't to say that the production team doesn't do some fine work. Hyde Park Theatre and Capital T Theatre Company joined forces for this show, with Capital T Artistic Director Mark Pickell directing and Hyde Park lending its considerable experience and muscle to the effort. Webster is one of the strongest and most consistent performers in Austin, and he does just fine here. But for all that an affordable, two-character, one-set play with a complex situation is supposed to be a formula for an actor-producer's victory dance, the script isn't a sufficient vehicle for his talents. His co-star, Romero, is a Master of Fine Arts acting student at the University of Texas, and while she shows promise, at present she hangs on to every "s" and "f" sound with a death grip that distracts from the depth of feeling of which she's capable.
The two struggle a bit with Harrower's style, a Mamet-esque rush of stops and starts interspersed with long, graphic monologues. It's fun to see characters interrupting each other on stage, but it works better when an actor knows what he or she was about to say next and doesn't just stop talking because the cue happened.
Both of the companies involved in Blackbird are strong groups capable of great work. The major element lacking this time was a good script deserving of their talents.
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