If you've ever abused another human, playwright David Harrower has an uncomfortable reminder for you in his taut two-person drama, Blackbird, which South Stream Productions is currently performing at Raleigh's Sonorous Road Theatre. Somewhere, someone remembers everything you ever did to them. They have the rest of their lives to act, at a time and place of their choosing, on that information.
For her part, Una has chosen, at the end of a workday, to confront Ray, a middle-aged, low-level manager who is dealing with the hassles of a late order at some nondescript dental manufacturing plant. The two have more than a bit of a history between them. Una was twelve when she developed a dangerous crush on Ray: flirting, leaving notes on his windshield, constantly putting herself in his path. Ray was forty when, three months later, he abducted and had sex with her.
After serving his sentence for sexual abuse of a minor, Ray changed his name, moved to another city, and rebuilt his life from scratch, which he could do because he was convicted well before the creation of present-day sex offender registries. Fifteen years later, Una tracks him down, and this gripping one-scene play records their conversation.
Under Brook North's discerning direction, with Dana Marks's assistance as an acting coach, Katie Barrett and John Honeycutt negotiate the tripwires of Una and Ray's potentially explosive meeting. In so doing, these four stage artists carefully confront us with the playwright's controversial take on a longtime social taboo.
We'd say it's entirely fitting that the twenty-seven-year-old Una demands a different, more personal form of justice than the one the courts dispensed. As she openly mocks Ray's narrative of redemption after prison, she cat-and-mouses him, physically at times, across North's drab break-room of a set, dangling the threat of exposure to his colleagues and the woman in his life. Una emphatically asserts that, because she never moved away from the town where she met Ray, she's also served fifteen years for his crime.
"I was talked about, pointed at, stared at," she says. "I lost all my friends ... I had to keep my name." But as Ray's narrative fills in the blanks of their disastrous relationship, she watches the monolithic monster who ruined her life crumble into something broken and infinitely smaller.
Harrower's text and this production will not sit well with those who demand that sexual abusers remain forever demonized. Nor will it comfort those determined to deny victims any possibility of agency in their own abuse. But as a document of two deeply damaged people, both of whom are trying to pick up and mend the pieces of their own lives, Blackbird presents a garland of thorny questions with no easy answers.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Unhappy Returns."