Sunday, September 27, 2009

Leave it to our smaller theaters to bring interesting plays to town when the major companies ignore these works. Stray Cat Theatre opens its season with the local premiere of an acclaimed English play, “Blackbird,” by David Harrower. The production is a winner although it won’t appeal to all theatergoers due to the play’s controversial theme.

“Blackbird” is based on a real situation. Ray seduced Una, a 12-year-old girl, and was imprisoned. After his jail time, Ray begins to right his life. Many years later, Una, now a troubled adult, shows up unannounced at Ray’s work to confront him about their past.

At first, your hate is directed at Ray but as the 80-minute, one-act play evolves, the fast moving and revelatory script shifts and changes as your disgust moves back and forth between the pair. At the end, the playwright never answers for you who are at fault; that’s your decision. Was it Ray, the then middle-aged guy enraptured with Una, or was it the flirty and sexually mature girl who longed for a trusting relationship? Una hoped the intimacy would provide the love and trust she never got from her parents.

It’s a fascinating dialogue and Harrower is adept at shifting the audience hatred as mistrust between Ray and Una provides insightful details about the relationship. Harrower doesn’t answer who suffered most although there is no excuse for a man sexually seducing a girl. Una’s attack on Ray is traumatic, though, and opens the question of her stability both before and after the liaison.

Ron May’s superlative production provides a better interpretation than a previous production I saw. With his designer, he’s crafted a cramped, confining, and inhospitable break room that is ideal for the confrontation. His cast is wonderful in the two roles.

His cast both approaches their roles with a natural hesitancy since the pair would be tentative in such an awkward confrontation. There’s much realistic chatter but also genuine emotional outbursts at key moments during the strained meeting. David Vining’s Ray is just right. Initially he’s ashamed and remorseful but as Una attacks, he grows more confrontational and physical in his reaction to her. Nina Miller’s Una is no less flawless. At first, she’s hesitant, slow to place the burden on Ray, but ultimately she releases a stream of hatred and fears caused by Ray’s action. As the issues haunt her, her life is influenced. Miller evolves from a shy flower to a dominant champion of placing the blame as she sees it.

“Blackbird” is an uncomfortable experience but the story is fascinating and timely. “Blackbird” continues through October 10. For tickets, call the Stray Cat Theatre box office at 480-820-8022 or order online at

Grade: A