Review by Daniel Dunlow
22 March 2016
From the first moment of lights up on the play, the audience puts on their seat belts and goes with the story from 0 to 60 in what seems like mere instances. Maintaining this speed for the remainder of the 90-minute play, Blackbird promises to be one of the most potent and fierce drama’s of the season.
The blackbird, to me (having grown up in the south) is a pest of the field that my father the farmer planted seeds into– coming in and eating freshly buried potential plants. In Greek folklore, the blackbird was said to die if it ate pomegranate (the fruit of lust and sex.) The Beatles also released a song entitled “Blackbird,” featuring lyrics that read “Blackbird singing in the dead of night, Take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.” However, by the end of the play, the last thing on the audience’s mind is what the title means. They have synthesized ideas of love, hurt, and human moral into a hard-to-swallow pill.
This two-person drama that opened at the Belasco Theatre this month, after winning the 2007 Olivier Award for best new play, a 2007 run at Manhattan Theatre Club, and many different international productions, wallops Broadway with brute force. The play is the reunion of a sexual abuse victim (Una) and her abuser (Ray) after 15 years hidden from each other– She, being 12 at the time of the abuse, and he being in his mid-40s. Now, the curtain comes up on her at 27 looking into the eyes of a man she has only seen in nightmares for 15 years. All it takes for this boiling drama to stake its claim on that Tony-nom slot is the brilliant direction of Joe Mantello. No moment is wasted in getting to know these characters from start to finish.
A single room with over-flowing trash cans is wildly complimented by the sterling performances of Jeff Daniels as Ray and Michelle Williams as Una. I usually find two-person plays concerning as an audience member; if a scene is going poorly, you know that there is no chance of another character entering to fix it. These actors never run into scene-trouble in this tour-de-force of a play. They let the masterful language by playwright David Harrower take them where the play says they must go, which at times is intelligent and shocking.
Ray, the abuser, starts the play just like Twelve Angry Men— Guilty until proven innocent. He fights through the play to show how he is not just an abuser, but also a person. He is up against the mountain of human consciousness. Una, on the other hand, is fighting for the first time in her life. She is fighting for something she doesn’t even understand after 15 years. This internal character conflict, that has external relationship repercussions for the characters on stage is purely stunning.
I knew nothing about the play when I sat down in my seat, however I was glued by moment one. For the first time this season, I was grabbing my date’s leg in anxiety for the characters. The entire audience was strapped in, and taken on a roller-coaster that, regardless of the ending, the journey was the beauty of it.
Run to see this play that is enormously brave and masterfully produced.
"'Blackbird,' which took the Olivier Award in London for best play in 2007, is an immensely powerful work that only occasionally maximizes its potential in the fitful production that opened on Thursday night at the Belasco Theater."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"'Blackbird' is taut, twisty and provocative. There’s value in works that make your mind fly to uncomfortable places and send out cries you can’t unhear."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Had Michelle Williams made her Broadway debut in 'Blackbird' instead of 'Cabaret,' she’d have been hailed as a major new stage star, because what she pulls off in David Harrower’s 2005 drama is shattering."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"'Blackbird' is a comfortless 80-minute reckoning of arrested time and soiled innocence."
David Cote for Time Out New York
"Harrowing — and absolutely brilliant."
Mark Kennedy for Associated Press
"Mantello — on a roll after his meticulously nuanced work on The Humans — and his remarkable actors give this slow-burning, real-time drama fluidity and searing emotional heat."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"Profoundly unsettling drama."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...