The dirty employee break room of a dental-pharmaceutical company is the setting. Garbage cans overflow with empty potato-chip bags, candy-bar wrappers and soda cans. A hodgepodge of chairs also characterizes the room; some are even sitting atop tables. A water cooler is in the background, with paper-cone cups at the ready for an empty tank. Scratches and grime are evident on the walls and furniture.
Imperfect and uninviting as it is, the room represents a second chance, perhaps as good as it’s going to get, for Ray, a man now in his mid-50s who works for the company. It is amidst this trash and disarray that he will be visited by Una, an attractive 20-something woman who has tracked him down– not by using his name (that was changed a while back), but by recognizing him in a photo in a trade magazine. She is there to confront him about their past and the relationship between them when she was 12. What has driven her to hunt him down and face him may have less to do with justice or reckoning and much more to do with the complicated bond that she feels she has with him.
Such is the premise of Scottish playwright David Harrower’s Blackbird, which California Repertory is currently presenting in the Royal Theatre aboard the Queen Mary. Blackbird (a word which is the Scottish equivalent of “jailbird”) won as Best New Play at the 2006 Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland and a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2007. It delves deeply into a type of relationship that society deems morally reprehensible and inexcusable, but it’s not a cut-and-dry morality play. Most strikingly, Blackbird taps into the surprising perspective of the victim. Has she come to see Ray to scold him so that she can find some type of closure? Or is she perhaps seeking to rekindle something with her past “victimizer?”
What is most interesting about the story is that, since their relationship, as it were, had been unexpectedly cut short by circumstances of their own misunderstanding, they are finally able to speak to each other, since he is now out of prison and she is an adult.
In Cal Rep’s production, directed by Trevor Biship, both Anna Steers (Una) and Christopher Shaw (Ray) provide unaffected, emotionally relatable performances with a script that is casual in its tone. These are not larger-than-life characters, and the dialogue, likewise, is straightforward; it doesn’t take long for these everyday people to get right into the nitty-gritty of what had occurred 15 years prior, and the “couple’s” honest assessment of their affair is eye-opening.
Cal Rep’s production of Blackbird will continue in the Royal Theatre aboard The Queen Mary through Oct. 12. Tickets are $25 general admission and $20 for students, military and seniors 55 and older. Parking at the Queen Mary is $8 for patrons of Cal Rep productions and $6 for CSULB students and patrons who have dinner aboard the ship. For more information, visit calrep.org or call (562) 985-5526.