Raleigh's South Stream Productions again takes the stage at Sonorous Road with another provocative production, this time based on a real-life event. While the news barely reached our shores, in a 2003 story, US Marine Toby Studebaker was tried and convicted overseas for the kidnapping of a 12-year-old British girl. In 2005, Scottish playwright David Harrower was commissioned by the Edinburgh International Festival to write a play along these lines. What they got was perhaps different than what they expected. In Blackbird, Harrower places the play 15 years beyond such an event, and pits the two involved characters against each other.
South Stream's Brook North directs this essentially two-person show with an eye on developing each character over a period of years, rather than moments. When these two confront each other, 15 years have passed since the "event," and Ray (John Honeycutt) has done a tremendous job of getting on with his life. After a six-year prison term is curtailed for good behavior to three years, eleven months, Ray, now a convicted pedophile, leaves town, changes his name, and tries to blend into the scenery. He is fortunate; he is able to obtain a good job, make a decent living, and he has even found a woman to share his life with, someone a year older than he is. He has done everything possible to atone for his actions, and feels he is entitled to a life after paying for his crime. He is clean; he has never even attempted to sleep with another child.
Una (Katie Barrett) has not moved on so well. While she has blossomed into a stunning young woman, Una is deeply troubled. After her one day of testimony at Ray's trial, she was whisked out of sight, but her parents never moved from the small town in which they had always lived. Thus, Una has been the topic of discussion, pointed at, ridiculed, and tormented. There has never been a day in which she has not brooded over the terrible events of that night. She had found Ray quite by accident, while reading a glossy magazine. There in a picture, shown among his new co-workers, was Ray, smiling back at her, but now under a new name. So, having learned where he works, Una has come to confront Ray. But even now, standing in a shabby breakroom, staring back at him, she is unsure of exactly why she came. Hoping, perhaps, for some sort of closure, she is the all-too-real reminder of what Ray has done, and he is, to say the least, not happy to see her.
John Honeycutt played Ray with a sense of heaviness of the weight that bears down on him. Katie Barrett portrayed Una as a seemingly confident, together young woman: well-dressed, well-groomed. But past this facade of confidence, we were able to see that Uma is still a 12-year-old child who had not only been abused, but abandoned.
There are so many different ways this scenario could break that, when it finally came, the climax was actually surprising. And if you suspected violence, be not surprised; there is anger, there is rage, even the throwing of furniture.
While I stated that this was, essentially, a two-person play, there is a third person involved, a young girl played adroitly by Marleigh Purgar-McDonald. It is a brief, well-handled appearance. But if, like I, you notice things like pre-show and post-show music, know that it is performed by this young lady and Aaron Alderman. The post-show performance of Lennon and McCartney's "Blackbird" and these particular lyrics are especially apt.
South Stream builds this show in a room that looks exactly like every breakroom you have ever seen: sink, fridge, coffee pot, microwave, trash, tables, chairs, bare white walls, dull commercial carpet. Dull and boring by design. It is not a room in which you are expected to spend a lot of time. It is exactly the kind of room where this should never happen. And that, after it is all said and done, is this play in a microcosm.
Blackbird continues through Sunday, January 22. For more details on this production (and updates on weather-related performance cancellations), please view the sidebar.