Blackbird, playing at Toronto’s Artscape Youngspace, suffers from a lacking script that fails to hit the mark
Blackbird, an indie production from FilmBooth Productions, is showing in a “Flex Studio” in Artscape Youngspace, which makes it very intimate and it’s always fun to see something in an unconventional space. The subject matter, however is far from “fun”: it concerns a woman who searches out the man who sexually abused her when she was twelve years old and he was forty. The action is set in the deserted lunchroom of the warehouse where the man, now approaching sixty, works.
The studio was well-suited to staging as a warehouse lunchroom with its institutional, cold white walls and floor. A TV set high in one corner that showed “security footage” from the rest of the building helped with creating the environment and also as a physical metaphor for the exposition of secrets that happens throughout the play.
Una (Sarah Booth) seems to have shown up at the end of office hours, and Ray, who has now changed his name to Peter (David Ferry) hides her away in the lunchroom so his colleagues who are still in the building won’t hear anything she has to say. He recognizes her, of course – though he makes a bad show of pretending she might be someone else for two seconds at one point.
What follows is a retelling of the sordid details: meeting at a backyard barbecue her father had held; how she had a schoolgirl crush on him that he did not discourage; their first kiss and subsequent sexual activities in the bushes of a local public park; a disastrous trip to a guest house in a neighbouring town; his trial, sentencing and jail time and how he has now created a new life for himself.
Both Ferry and Booth are competent actors, but if I’m going to feel sympathy for a man who molested a twelve year old when he was forty, it’s going to take a better script than this. Ray/Peter insists that he loved Una; he shows no remorse except for being caught and for not being allowed to write to Una from prison to explain that he did not leave her at the guest house on purpose. He feels sorry for himself, that is clear. But the script seemed to want the audience to also feel sorry for him and I certainly did not, nor did my companion.
The characterization of Una was even more disappointing, in that she did not have a consistent, coherent character at all. It seemed like the playwright, David Harrower, wanted to make her seem Lolita enough to justify Ray/Peter’s actions, but also fulfill the stereotype of “post-traumatic crazy” so as to force a climax by having her descend into a fit of screaming and throwing things, followed by throwing herself lustfully on her molester. It was histrionic, it was contrived, and I didn’t believe it at all.
There is an almost-redemption at the end with a suggestion that Ray/Peter might be up to his old tween-abusing ways, which, if it is true, means that it’s appropriate that we do not have any sympathy for him. But even that left me feeling like it had been a waste of my time listening to his pathetic justifications for eighty-five minutes. It also left me wondering why Una couldn’t be a character instead of a caricature.
My companion pointed out that perhaps the play would have been more compelling had the stakes been higher. As it is, Ray/Peter has already done his jail time; for most of the play they are alone in the empty warehouse so there’s no fear his coworkers or current partner will overhear the details of his past crime. Una’s is nothing but a mess, who lost everything when she was twelve and has nothing left to lose. The play gives us no reason to care about these characters, even if we were to believe in them.
Sexual abuse is an important topic, and I like to see it examined theatrically with insight and depth. Blackbird is, unfortunately, lacking in both of those aspects.
- Blackbird, is playing until December 11th at Artscape Youngspace, 180 Shaw Street.
- The show runs every night except Monday at 8 pm
- Tickets are $20 advance, $25 door with two $10 nights on December 4th & 9th that have special panels after the show
- To purchase tickets email firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo of David Ferry and Sarah Booth provided by the company