The Gamm's "Blackbird" Takes A Tough Look At Molestation

May 7, 2014

Madeleine Lambert as Una, Jim O'Brien as Ray in "Blackbird."
Credit Peter Goldberg / The Gamm Theatre

Yes, “Blackbird,” by Scottish author David Harrower, is a toughie. There’s no way around but to say that it focuses intimately, deeply on child molestation. It considers who was involved. It asks if whether both of its main characters – a middle aged man and a 12-year-old girl -- did not each suffer greatly. And, most tellingly, it offers no solutions.

In one act lasting less than 90 minutes we look in on the story of Una, the 12 –year-old and Ray, who’s 40 and ought to know better.  “Blackbird” opens some 15 or so years after their so-called “affair.” She arrives unannounced one day at his place of work.

Flabbergasted, he takes her in to a symbolically messy, dirty locker room. “What do you want?” he questions, terror in his voice. “You’re some kind of ghost.”

Yes, I am, she answers.

From there, the two cover much ground and uncover their roiled lives, their hatred, their hopes, and desperation. Both carry great weights, great needs.

“I hate the life I’ve had,” she tells him. And I want you to know it.

He counters with the fact that he considers their sexual time together “the biggest, most stupid mistake” of my life.

From there, “Blackbird” becomes an exploration. It would be simple for playwright Harrower to merely condemn Ray as a pedophile who deserved the jail term he received for having sex with a 12-year-old girl. But here is where the play deepens, darkens. Both characters are looked into with feeling and caring.

Truly, I can’t tell you anymore. “Blackbird” has a major switch near the end. To give any of it away would be unfair. Suffice to say that both Una and Ray are dissected. Both are tried and forgiven, to an extent. Playwright Harrower seeks not condemnation but understanding.

At the Gamm, artistic director Tony Estrella has given the play a ferocious pace. He’s allowed each character to come forward as fully as possible. And the primary actors have responded.

Madeleine Lambert, who played Anne Boleyn a while ago at the Gamm, makes Una a figure of both desire and want. She’s filled with pain but also has the guts to struggle on in a winning performance.

As Ray, Gamm regular Jim O’Brien turns in one of his best performances. He allows you to see his man’s struggle not only to re-make his fractured life but to fight against his unacceptable desires.

In the end, then, “Blackbird” is no play that wraps things up nicely. It has its faults. There’s plenty of tedium even as it roars along. But it’s the kind of show where, if  friends asked, “should we go?” You’d say “well, I’d love to know what you think of it.”

Let me close by relating one brief moment. Talking of their sexual time together, Ray tells Una that “I had to be alone with you.”

Wearing a sleeveless dress, she silently reaches for her sweater pulling it up to cover her bare arm. Small moment. Big example of what “Blackbird” is about.