It’s not easy to review Blackbird — and that, right there, is an excellent reason to see it. The gripping production presented by Flying H Group Theatre Company and directed by Richard Kuhlman at NAMBA Performing Arts Space is another.
The difficulty in writing about David Harrower’s drama lies in the fact that it doesn’t so much tackle a taboo as spar with it, play with it and peel it back, layer after layer, to reveal myriad colors that are anything but black and white. It would be easy to label this character the villain, this one the victim, an act as pure evil or any consequence, final. But that’s not how this story goes.
It begins as a man and woman burst into a break room. It’s the most innocuous of places, littered with empty boxes and half-eaten fast food, but it’s about to set the scene for two lives to come undone. As Ray (Taylor Kasch) ushers Una (Jessi May Stevenson) into the room, he is breathless and agitated. It’s as if he’s seen a ghost — and in a way he has. Ray and Una have a history that he has tried to erase. Fifteen years ago, Ray sexually abused a 12-year-old Una.
Since then, Ray has served time in prison. He has changed his name, moved to a new city and begun a relationship with an older woman. Not much is revealed about Una except that she has never stopped living in the aftermath of what happened. Now that she has found him, what does she want? To expose him? Kill him? Or something else?
The taut one-act play takes place in one room with just two people, both broken and trampled by the past yet feverishly alive. Kasch and Stevenson give fearless performances. They delve into the darkness and rise to the level of Harrower’s brilliant work. The result is a hypnotic dance through the complexities and contradictions of both the human heart and a heinous crime. Rage tangos with regret. Sorrow bows to reminiscence, and there are glimmers of flirtation, or could it be love? Has Una found Ray in order to break free from the past or does she want to rekindle it? Is Ray telling the truth when he says that Una was the only child he ever abused? Or is Ray a serial predator? There are no clear answers or boundaries here, which makes this dangerous territory, thrilling to behold.
It is made all the more enthralling because of the way it is staged in NAMBA’s studio. Kasch and Stevenson inhabit the whole space, sometimes moving around the audience, unencumbered as they would be in a traditional theater. The audience, seated close to the action, is immersed in the moment.
The production has three credits: Kuhlman, Kasch and Stevenson, which suggests that everything was boiled down to the essentials: Harrower’s words, and Kasch’s and Stevenson’s nuanced and natural performances. Under Kuhlman’s direction, a sideways glance, a change in tone, a faint smile or a sudden burst of passion speaks volumes.
It’s so wonderful to see Flying H Group Theatre Company soaring again. One hopes this is one of many pop-up performances to come. Catch this one while you can. Cancel other plans because Blackbird’s limited run ends this weekend.
See Blackbird through Nov. 4 at NAMBA Performing Arts Space. 47 S. Oak St., Ventura. Note: This production contains mature content and language. For tickets and more information, call 628-9250 or visit www.nambaarts.com.