The subject of sex with minors is always discomfiting. David Harrower’s “Blackbird” adds further unease by asking audiences to consider both sides of the story without assigning full blame or complete innocence.
South Stream Productions tackles this deeply troubling script head on, making it impossible to ignore the questions and implications presented.
Ray is a 55-year-old man who, at 40, had a three-month relationship with 12-year-old Una, resulting in a sexual encounter. After being discovered, Ray was convicted and served prison time, then moved away and changed his name.
Now 27, Una suddenly shows up at Ray’s workplace, which she learned from recognizing his photo in a trade magazine at a doctor’s office. Ray hurries her into the employee break room, nervously asking why she’s there. Una tells him she never had her say about what happened and begins angrily describing the shame she’s endured while still living in the same town, unlike Ray’s chance to start over.
Soon, however, details emerge in Ray’s defense of his actions (he’d never been attracted to a minor before; he felt Una had led him on) and in Una’s responses (she was too young to understand her emotions; she needed someone to be nice to her) that reveal a more complex situation. Their conversation then veers from bitter accusations to happy reminiscing, calling into question their real motivations and truthful memories as more conflicting information comes out.
Director Brook North’s claustrophobic break room design, messy like the characters’ lives, serves his cat-and-mouse direction well, the actors constantly backed into corners or negotiating trash on tables and floor. Alyssa Petrone’s fluorescent-like lighting projects a chilled atmosphere, although lit from an odd side angle.
John Honeycutt and Katie Barrett gamely take on the explicit sexual dialogue and harsh physical interaction, keeping the pacing tight. Honeycutt is best at showing Ray’s fear of discovery and weariness from guilt; Barrett gets Una’s mocking aggression covering still-vulnerable emotions. At Friday’s opening, both actors had not fully explored the rich layers of Harrower’s characters, signaling further possibilities during the run. Marleigh Purger-McDonald adds a surprise variable in the short but pivotal role of a young girl.
The production can be recommended for its clear-eyed look at deciphering the full truth in such highly-charged situations.
If you go
What: “Blackbird,” presented by South Stream Productions.
Where: Sonorous Road Theatre, 209 Oberlin Road, Raleigh.
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12-14, 19-21; 3 p.m. Jan. 15, 22.
Tickets: $20 (seniors/students $16)
Info: 919-803-3798 or sonorousroadtheatre.com/blackbird