Review: Blackbird (Pinchback Productions)

A dark love story of codependency and drug use takes centre stage in Blackbird at Toronto’s Hub14 Theatre

When I first heard that Blackbird was being staged here in Toronto, I became quite excited. Granted I did mistake playwright Adam Rapp with his brother Anthony Rapp who everyone knows as Mark from RENT. Though the comparison isn’t too far off. Unlike RENT, Blackbird is not filled with music and nostalgic, happy moments. There is no La Vie Boheme or Tango Maureen. However, there is drug use aplenty — heroin to be exact, it is Christmas Eve in New York City, and cutting through all of that is love.

This two hour production takes place in a small studio theatre, the Hub14 at Queen and Bathurst. The venue does wonders for setting the scene. It’s a cozy space: single room, limited seating (be sure to sit close to the front for an unobstructed view), with a gutted ceiling and exposed wiring that gives the place a ramshackle feeling. A run-down apartment for the dystopian love story of Baylis (Eric Regimbald), a Gulf War veteran seeking refuge in the needle; and Froggy (Alona Metzer), a young stripper turned junkie, to play out.

I warn you now, do not kid yourself when going to see this production — you will not feel good about yourself when you leave. You won’t be comfortable, you won’t be happy. You will feel morose and if you allow the performance to sink in and stay with you, settle in all sticky like into the dark nooks and crannies of your mind, you will feel raw, you may even shed a few tears, you will be left speechless. That being said, do see this show.

See it so that it can move you in all its uncomfortable ways. Most of all, see it so you can witness the remarkable performances from Regimbald and Metzer who go there and stay there for the two hour duration, who are fearless in baring these characters’ souls while living out the downright darkest and worst days of these characters’ lives — from Baylis’ incontinence to Froggy’s bed wetting for attention.

At first it’s jarring, but that’s bound to happen. Right off the top, you’re taken aback from the number of times you hear variations of “fuck”, “fuckface”, and “dickless” within the first bits of dialogue but then you throw those barriers aside and keep pace. Then you’re struck again when you see the depths of these two characters and how they wound up in this situation. The pained dichotomy of Froggy offering a blowjob and then asking for crayons because she wants to colour.  

And as strong and powerful as Regimbald’s portrayal was, it was Metzer’s Froggy that captured me. Her rich girl turned stripper turned junkie lifestyle and the way it mirrors how young and naive she really is. All of it punctuated with a perverted innocence.

My one little pebble in the shoe quibble I had with this production was the audio cues. The music and sound effects came off too abrupt and loud for my tastes. Footsteps up the stairs sounded more like heavy knocking at the door and for a while I couldn’t tell that the blackbird at the window was actually a bird. A few tweaks to make the sound more seamless would do wonders.

I don’t need to say much more except to offer a well-warranted nod to director TJ Chelsea on a great directorial debut with Blackbird. This is the joy of small theatre — in allowing a challenge such as this to not only be met but take flight.

Details:

  • Blackbird is playing at the Hub14 Theatre (14 Markham Street).
  • Performances run March 21-23 at 8 pm.
  • Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 for students, and $15 at the door.
  • Tickets can be purchased in advance online.

Photo of Eric Regimbald and Alona Metzer by Paul Dudar.