Magazine article Variety

Blackbird

Magazine article Variety

Blackbird

Article excerpt

Blackbird

THEATER.- Belasco; 1,016 seats; $145 top

DIRECTOR: Joe Mantello

STARRING: Jeff Daniels, Michelle Williams

Was it love - or was it statutory rape? That's the loaded question at the heart of Scottish playwright David Harrower's profoundly unsettling drama "Blackbird," which launched at the Edinburgh Festival in 2005 and had its first American production two years later. Now on Broadway under Joe Mantello's technically immaculate (if overindulgent) direction, Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams play the two deeply troubled lovers (or is it predator and victim?) who meet again, 15 years after their affair (or is it crime?) was abruptly terminated.

When we first lay eyes on him - in the grim and grubby break room of the soulless corporate offices designed by Scott Pask and heartlessly lighted by Brian MaeDevitt - Ray (Daniels), a 50ish middle manager in a pharmaceutical firm, looks like a man who has come face to face with a ghost. That's actually a sound description of Una (Williams), his unwanted visitor. Although the skinny little thing, who is in her mid-20s, looks no more threatening than a mouse in her flimsy dress and bare legs, she has Ray, a hulking man who is twice her size, cowering in fear just being in the same room with her.

It was Mantello's directorial choice to go big with the emotions in this first scene, which heightens the drama but also pitches the passion so high that the actors can only take it up... and up ... to the edge of hysteria.

The initial dialogue is negligible, but crackling with meaningful undercurrents and heightened David Mamet-like tension, as well as Mamet-like themes and vocal rhythms. ("Don't people have homes?" / "Homes?" / "Outside" / "I don't" / "To go to" / "Homes to go to.") There's a story embedded in these mannered exchanges, and the playwright teases it along gradually, drawing out the pain. And the story of sexual obsession that emerges is ugly, indeed.

When Una was 12, she and her 40-year-old neighbor (whose name wasn't Ray at the time) had a brief, forbidden relationship that they both romanticized as a love affair, but which the law unsentimentally defined as statutory rape. Ray went to prison for three-and-ahalf years, and it took all the guts he had left when he got out to forge a new life for himself in the anonymous corporate world, where obscurity is a virtue. …

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