BWW Review: BLACKBIRD at 18th & Union Delivers Shocking Portrayal of Sexual Abuse
Dear Readers, there are shows out there that are all dessert and give you the fun and fluff. A certain pee-soaked musical comes to mind. Then there are the shows that slip the meaningful messages or vegetables in with the yummy portions to trick you into enriching your mind and soul. There's a baseball show currently running that fits that bill. And then there are the shows that are all nutrition. Shows that are so meaningful and full of raw significance that some may not be ready to handle them. Such is "Blackbird" currently running at 18th & Union produced by White Rabbits Inc and Libby Barnard. That's not to say you can't enjoy those nutritious morsels on some level especially considering the stirring performances but know that while your mind and soul may be richer at the end, the rest of you may walk away feeling not so great. Or, as happened with one patron the night I saw it, you may not be able to handle it and may need to leave. But with the subject matter, the theater knows this may happen and even encouraged it.
David Harrower's 2005 play, partially inspired by true events, allows you to peek in on a very private conversation between a middle-aged man, Ray (Shawn Belyea), and 27-year-old Una (Libby Barnard), as she shows up unexpectedly at his workplace to confront him over the sexual relationship the two had 15 years earlier when she was 12 and he was 40. I honestly don't want to tell you much more as you'll want it to let you unfold when you see it, and you do want to see it.
Director Paul Budraitis handles the unfolding of this harrowing tale with sensitivity and a perfect pace especially considering it's simply a back and forth between two people. He never allows it to become static or dull but then much of that is due to the actors as well as Harrower's fantastic dialog. Harrower manages to show both sides (to an extent) of this heinous act, never truly turning Ray into a villain. And the twists and turns in the story astound. He takes this subject matter, which could be quite black and white, and fills it with vibrancy and nuanced layers. And he's crafted it in such a way that it never let's you feel safe or complacent as to what's happening and just when you might be, he shocks with a swift left turn whether in story or staging.
Now this is certainly a vanity project, brought together not by an established theater company but by people with a passion for the piece. Hell, one of the producers is half the cast. And vanity projects can be deadly. But when it's coming from such incredible professionals, well I prefer to look at this not so much as a vanity project as hopefully the birth of a new company bringing quality performances and shows to Seattle as everything in this simple and yet complex play was top notch. Barnard gives a fascinating look into the mind of a girl who's unsure of what she wants. She's never predictable or flat and her evolution during the play is stunning especially as she explains the events of the fateful night in one hell of a monologue. Belyea too manages a very surprising portrait of a man who's trapped in this situation, racked by guilt of what he's done, and desperate to find a way out.
I won't say much more as I want you to experience the piece raw. And raw is a good word to describe it, in fact it may be too raw and triggering for some, so please keep that in mind. But if you can handle it, you should. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give "Blackbird" at 18th & Union a severely unsettled YAY+. Sometimes you just need to eat your veggies and these ones may go down hard but are well worth it.
"Blackbird" from White Rabbits Inc and Libby Barnard performs at 18th & Union through June 15th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.whiterabbitsinc.com/upcoming or at www.18thandunion.org.