BWW Review: BLACKBIRD at Fulton Theatre

BWW Review: BLACKBIRD at Fulton Theatre

You will know that Fulton Theatre's production of Blackbird promises something different even before you pass through the door. Ushers inform patrons that the show is 90 minutes long without intermission. They state that due to the intensity of the play, anyone leaving the theater will not be re-admitted. "What am I getting myself into?", I thought to myself.

The interior of the Groff Studio Theater further exemplified the uniqueness of the show. Many past productions created a lavish, fully immersive environment. Previously the space has been transformed into everything from a highly detailed Irish pub to an elegant Victorian drawing room. However, Blackbird is performed in a spartan black box. The action takes place inside a large rectangular cutout on the far side of a wall. The setting is a filthy office breakroom, with garbage strewn all around. It looks disgusting.

The performance space is not so much of a stage, but more reminiscent of a large department store window. At times, the audience feels as if they are voyeurs, unseen witnesses to an illicit conversation. Scenic designer, William James Mohney has created a truly uncomfortable, yet highly appropriate, atmosphere.

The uncomfortable and lurid atmosphere accurately foreshadows some of the themes of the plot. Blackbird is the story of a confrontation between Ray (Jeffrey Coon), a middle-age office worker unexpectedly confronted by Una (Kate Fahrner), a young woman who he sexually abused when she was 12.

Coon is very reminiscent of character actor, Paul Giamatti. Like Giamatti, he has a great knack for characters who are equal parts shlub and creep. Coon has the unenviable task of making a sexual predator somewhat relatable. While there seems to be very Little Room for sympathy, we are reminded that Ray served jail time for his crime and he is doing his best to keep his past behind him.

Physically, Fahrner is small and waif-like. This makes it much easier for the audience to envision what she was like as a young girl. Her character also has considerable dysfunction, which elevates the story to much more than a one-dimensional tale of victim and villain.

The script starts off strong with a series of verbal tennis matches between characters. Eventually, things slow down (a little too much) as each actor delivers a lengthy, exposition-heavy monologue. However, the pace picks up considerably, racing towards an ambiguous gut-punch of an ending.

Blackbird is not an easy show to watch, but it is an important one. It tackles complex themes and, like life, promises no simple resolutions.

The show runs through April 22. The theater has teamed up with Lancaster YWCA to provide optional debriefing sessions with trained sexual assault counselors following every performance. Tickets and more information can be found at their website.

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From This Author Rich Mehrenberg

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