Theater review: 'Blackbird' at Rogue Machine
In Scottish playwright David Harrower’s taut psychodrama “Blackbird,” an adult woman confronts the man who sexually abused her when she was 12 years old. But don’t expect the earnest, tear-stained examination of a TV movie. The situation here, potently brought to life at Rogue Machine, is treated as something of a love story — a pernicious, exploitative romance that refuses to release victim and perpetrator from its hellish grip.
Una (Corryn Cummins) ambushes Ray (Sam Anderson) at his place of employment 15 years after their curiously passionate and utterly illegal involvement, which earned him a jail sentence. He has since rebuilt his life, having changed his name, landed a reasonable job and found a wife. Una has had a harder time moving forward. Shame and longing have stunted her maturity, and she is by turns accusatory and seductive as she tries to find out whether Ray too has been permanently warped by their experience.
Directed with remarkable concentration by Robin Larsen, the production takes place in a nondescript lounge of a cold, uninviting company. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s set, spilling over with lunchroom detritus, suggests the emotional garbage that Una and Ray are still wading through.
Larsen takes a less abstract approach to the play than Joe Mantello did in his 2007 staging at Manhattan Theatre Club with Jeff Daniels and Alison Pill. These aren't post-Pinteresque figures any longer but tumultuously unresolved human beings — an interpretation that works extremely well in a space so intimate the actors have nowhere to hide. The chemistry between Anderson and Cummins initially seems odd, but they inhabit the painful paradoxes of their characters with startling believability.
Anderson's Ray is a doughy middle manager you’d never expect could do harm. Yet his passivity takes on a subtle sexual menace as old feelings are rekindled. His performance provokes sympathy and suspicion, leaving you to wonder whether he's a man who has earned a second chance or a sociopath setting up his next opportunity.
Cummins’ Una is a Lolita who doesn't know who she is now that she is past the age of consent. Her anguish is wrenching, but there’s a dangerous complicity to her behavior. Her fury is that of someone who was abandoned rather than violated — a devastating insight unearthed by this courageous play and production.
-- Charles McNulty
“Blackbird,” Rouge Machine, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays, 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Monday, after which the schedule changes to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sunday, and 8 p.m. Mondays. Ends July 24. (Call for exceptions.) $25-$30 (855) 585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. [An earlier version of this information box provided an incorrect web address.]
Photo: Sam Anderson and Corryn Cummins. Credit: John Flynn