The development of the two protagonists (a young woman Una, and a middle aged man Ray) shifts directions so often that we are left with the impression of a play that has captured the very essence of human relations: the intertwining of contradictory motives, of multiple influences, of character weaknesses and social pressures . All these things come together in the melting pot of the human mind, to produce reactions that are unexplainable and certainly unforeseeable.
That is what makes the drama of Blackbird. An apparently simple encounter takes place in the lunch room of a factory somewhere in Scotland. . The sparse and dirty room is strewn with garbage, smelly left over of lives that are about to be dissected in an excruciatingly intense meeting between this young woman and and this older man. The door opens and in walks Ray, pushing Una before him, forcing her into the room so they can talk and no one will see them, yet he does not want to close the door. As if he were afraid to be alone with her. We are perplexed. We have no idea what the problem is but the look of anger and near terror that actor John Koensgen shoots over to Kristina Wall, standing defiantly in front of him, tells us that this is only the beginning of an encounter that is about to become something much more disturbing.
What becomes obvious from the first moments is the language. An accumulation of bits of broken phrases, of embarrassed sounds and chopped up pieces of sentences, of hesitations, repetitions, and sudden shifts in mid phrase. A language of people who have difficulty using words, who don’t know how to communicate with each other, who are even afraid to start and who let the sounds rumble back into their throats and get lost somewhere between the tongue and the brain, as though speech were a kind of mental torture. Writer David Harrower has found the perfect form of expression for his subject because he forces the characters to communicate by reaching out to the each other emotionally, exuding a perfume of guilt and anger, of hate and love, of humiliation and embarrassment, of loss and longing. This is a dialogue of the unspoken, of that which cannot be said, of that which is hidden. And in this sense, we hear the influence of Pinter in very many ways.
In the first moments we think we have it all figured out and we know who to blame, because there is always a guilty party somewhere. Then it all shifts and changes meaning and we find a new and unexpected guilty party. And finally, again as if this were a Pinter play, a new presence emerges and our image of what has happened is completely reversed and we are left with such a sense of ambiguity that we find ourselves looking at events on an almost allegorical plane, in spite of the intense realism of the staging.
Director Mary Ellis assured me that she followed the text and the stage directions as closely as possible in order to capture this author who is certainly a very angry “young” man, needing to throw back false taboos, hypocritical ethics and narrow mindedness into society’s face. And the result is a two hander that keeps us glued to our seats, staring at the actors so as not to miss the slightest gesture, the slightest expression the slightest emotion that will bring more clues to that fractured dialogue, clues as to what each of these characters is feeling or more to the point, what each is hiding. .
Fascinating theatre with two excellent performances by John Koensgen and Kristina Watt who play off against each other in this muted combat for power that moves back and forth, like a game of checkers. Koensgen’s stuttering, his tortured face, his explosions of emotion set off against the slithering presence of Kristina Watt in that violently red sweater, who moves like a minx, stares like an inquisitor. Mlle Watt is turning into an exceptionally good actress. We must keep our eye on her. Together they tear up the stage.
Blackbird is an excellent evening of theatre by Third Wall, playing now at the Irving Greenberg Theatre
Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht
Performances are at 7h30, tickets are $29 or $22 for students and seniors. Call the Box office at 613-236-1425.
Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht, CBC Ottawa Morning
September 2010 Also found on www.scenechanges.com
By David Harrower
A Production of the Third Wall Theatre
Directed by Mary Ellis
Set, prop and Costume design by Sarah Waghorn
Una Kristina Watt
Ray John Koensgen