Blackbird soars with social discomfort

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Pedophilia. The word has as many undesirable connotations as undesirable consequences. Theatre Inconnu’s production of David Harrower’s play Blackbird explores how pedophilia transforms two individuals.

One is 27-year-old Una. The other is Ray, a man of almost 50 years. Ray abused Una when she was 12, served time in prison, then disappeared. Una finds him, which is when the play begins.

She surprises Ray at work (where he’s now known as Peter) and demands a conversation. They shuffle into a helter-skelter office lunchroom, not leaving for the 90-minute duration of the performance.

The room is a mess, pocked with scattered garbage and filled with cheap furniture — uninviting. A room meant for brief breaks from work and life. The only place Una and Ray could be alone.

The script warrants praise. Harrower, who was inspired by the crimes of sex offender Toby Studebaker, manages to surprise with each new beat. I had, perhaps somewhat foolishly, predicted Una had come for closure. A final chance to end her history with Ray. I won’t ruin the end, but instead of writing the last page of her book, Una begins another chapter.

The nods to various Victoria-area landmarks within the script were a pleasant surprise. The mentions of Beacon Hill Park and James Bay were bright spots in a sombre narrative.

It should be noted that the dialogue and content is graphic. There is no easy way to talk about sex with a minor.

It should also be noted that the script does not provide a character to cheer for. Perhaps because, as a society, we’re so conditioned to want the male and female leads to fall in love or play the “will they or won’t they” game, being presented with an immoral relationship is too difficult to swallow.

Jess Amy Shead is cast perfectly as Una, transitioning from manic laughter to sobs with each new revelation. Her delivery of a lengthy monologue stretching on for at least 10 minutes was the most heartbreaking storytelling I’ve heard in a long time. Strong imagery in the language allows audience members to fill in the blanks left purposely empty by Una and Ray.

Ray, for all his involvement in the story, took a secondary role. Played by Graham McDonald, who directed the production and had to be recast as Ray only a day before opening night (filling in for Ted Phythian), played the middle-aged ex-con with almost too much enthusiasm. On a positive note, Ray did repulse me greatly.

The guest I brought described her experience as “uncomfortable.” Chatter from other audience members echoed her thoughts. We all agreed the pacing was spot-on, a wave of emotions continuously rushing to shore. Take a dip and see Blackbird.

 

Blackbird by Theatre Inconnu
Little Fernwood Hall (1923 Fernwood Rd.)
Oct. 18–19 @ 8 p.m.
Oct. 20 @ 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
$10 for students and seniors, $14 regular

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