February 17, 2009
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The next installment of Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park comes to us by way of Scottish playwright David Harrow. ‘Blackbird’, which received critical acclaim in New York and was the winner of London’s Olivier Award for best play in 2006, is centered around two characters and their rampant love for each other.
The plot is that of many plays, but with a forbidden twist by way of perversion and the social implications of being in love with little regard for social norms.
The beginning scene opens in a factory break room, well cluttered with trash and sparsely positioned chairs and tables, void of any workers. Ray, a mid-fifties, middle management type bursts into the room arguing with a slight framed 27-year-old named Una, closely behind him. With small suggestion and very little circumstance to go on, their sordid history unravels before our eyes, never taking a breath or leaving the break room for the 85 minute production.
The argument reveals that Una has shown up at Ray’s work unexpectedly from his distant past, to confront him about their taboo relationship some 15 years earlier when she was 12 and he was 40. Una is seeking to reconcile her past in order to move on in her present life, but more importantly she is in search of why he abandoned her so many years prior. Ray, quite the opposite, is not in search of any answers, but is in desperate need for her to leave his now content life that he worked hard to rebuild in the aftermath of a three years prison sentence where he was branded with the ‘Sex Offender’ label.’ ‘
It is evident the plays director lined the story with hints of the dilemmas that acccompany a socially unacceptable relationship. We see this in the title itself, which is a slang reference to a person who has spent time in jail or prison.The Beatles song ‘Black Bird’ was another connotation that Harrow undoubtedly wove into his play. Within the song, the lyrics repeat: ‘All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free’. Both Una and Ray are searching for a way to be free from their past; Una, in hopes of freeing the enamored and awkward 12-year-old phase that she has been entrenched in for the past 15 years; and Ray is seeking to free himself of the ‘Sex Offender’ label that has unjustly sullied his name and dashed any true chance at a normal existence.
Harrow is a true word smith and was quite adept in hammering out a dialogue that superimposes an everyday, human spin on Una and Ray’s star-crossed love. This human quality gives the forbidden duo a guy-and-girl-next-door-feel, as to inform us that it could in fact be us that are hopelessly caught up in this convoluted, little love quandary one day.
For those interested in a provocative drama of star-crossed caliber, ‘Blackbird’ shows from February 7 ‘- March 8 at Playhouse in the Park’s Shelterhouse Theatre.