Birds of a Feather
A 12 year old girl becomes involved with a 40 year old man. The man is caught, sentenced and imprisoned for six years. At age 27, the girl confronts the man in a small corner of corporate hell, i.e. a dingy office canteen that hasn't seen a janitor since the Nixon administration.
So what do we have here? A women's rights tour de force a la "Extremities"? A battle of wills and denial a la "Doubt"? Or a very, very unconventional love story? Perhaps all of the above...and more than that?
What you have is David Harrower's "Blackbird," the oddly titled play that finds its basis in real life events (Harrower found inspiration in the 2003 story of a U.S. Marine who engaged in an affair with a British minor and was imprisoned for 11 years for the crime) and just plain real life--the nature of human beings, how we each define ourselves based on our own perception of events...what we believe, what we NEED to believe, what is truth, and what is love.
Quoted in the play's program, Harrower provides insights into the play's substance: "For me, it's what we carry within us, how we believe we are made up and what memories we hold on to that shape us. It's what makes us the people we are. We walk around at any given moment, the sum of what we carry with us. I wanted that tension between the memory or the picture they paint for themselves and what is possible for them now."
The last play of the 2009-2010 season at The Everyman Theatre, "Blackbird" features Everyman staple Megan Anderson as Una, the former 12 year old in question, and David Parkes is Ray, now "Peter," a man desperately trying to put his past behind him and remake his life.
Anderson is exquisitely cast as Una--a lithe young woman with a kewpie doll face and large blue eyes, one can see her as the spindly leg 12-year-old her character once was. Parkes' "Peter/Ray" also has the right look for his part--not the stereotypical creepy abuser one has seen played a thousand times on every TV cop show, but a "regular guy" suffering from the usual symptoms of later middle-age, i.e. thinning hair, somewhat paunchy, and a shattered psyche carefully reglued with rationalizations, excuses and self-pity.
Parkes paces about the dirty canteen like a trapped animal, his words clipped and blurted as a man struggling with shock, incredulity and pain. Anderson dogs him, refusing to give him quarter.
Why has Una returned? To expose Peter as Ray, the ex-con child abuser? Ray doesn't see himself that way--and provides a detailed explanation of how he is "not one of those people," providing testimony to man's ability to delude himself. But is it all delusion? Is there any truth at all in Ray's memory of his 40-year-old self, a man once adrift in a mid-life crisis who sought comfort from another human being who gave him unconditional love.
Una does extract a measure of vengeance, but it's clear that's not all she's after. The play's lynch pin is the night 15 years ago when Una and Ray ran away together, became separated, with Ray ultimately arrested and Una facing the rancor of parents, friends, and the legal system.
Una wants to know why Ray abandoned her that night...but did he? There's a moment in the play where Una and Ray express their frustrations and emotions by tossing garbage all over the room, playing like kids in a pile of leaves. Are they in love? Can these two actually have a relationship? Will Ray "leave" again? Could it be neither Ray nor Una have progressed beyond that evening 15 years ago? They are but two sides to the same coin, birds of a feather, both stuck in the same place, in the same time, unable to truly move forward.
This play, which strikes quickly and powerfully in less than 90 minutes (no intermission), clearly raises more questions than it answers...but that's the mark of a great play...to entertain, to enlighten, to provide insights into the human condition.
The Everyman does its usual superlative job in terms of sound, lighting and set design, maximizing its intimate space to create a realistic setting flush with details from the overstuffed trash can to the half-empty vending machine to the standard office sink filled with coffee cups and dishes.
"Blackbird" continues its run at The Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles Street, now through June 13th. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or go online at www.everymantheatre.org.