Nov 10

Verb Theatre’s ‘Blackbird’ is an uncomfortable story worth watching

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

Camille Pavlenko as Una, left, and Curt McKinstry as Ray perform Blackbird at Motel Theatre in Calgary on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. The Verb Theatre production, written by David Harrower and directed by Jamie Dunsdon, runs until Nov. 18, 2017. (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)


Review written by Jenna Shummoogum

Sexual assault. Sexual abuse. Sex with a minor. It’s all over the news right now and it makes it a particular fitting time for Blackbird by David Harrower. The play is an intense 75 minutes, produced by Verb Theatre in the small space of the Motel theatre. It has the audience up close to the uncomfortable narrative, squished up against the ideas of abuse, desire and morality. Blackbird is a play that’s doesn’t live in the clean cut ideas of wrong and right.

The play tells of Una (Camille Pavlenko) who comes to find Ray (Curt McKinstry) at his work. She saw a picture in a magazine of him and his work team and looked him up. It was a 6 hour drive and now they are in a staff room, looking at each other, with so much to say and so much that they can’t say. The room is all blinds that cover windows, with a table in the center and garbage strewed everywhere. The staff don’t keep it clean and this serves as a metaphore to Ray and Una’s lives. Ray got involved in an illegal relationship with Una when she was 12 years old and they have both been haunted by this decision ever since.

Jamie Dunston designed the set, with damaged window blinds on either side of the windows in the play and they are lit in red. It’s a simple set that points to the damage to these two people. Pavlenko and McKinstry are hurt and pain and raw emotion but are also measured in their performances. Their performances allow the audience to see the deep conflict within them. The dialog is a bit halting and unnatural to begin with, but then it smooths out. Dunston also directs the show, allowing the tension to ebb and flow.

It would be really easy to just assume that everyone who commits an act like this goes to jail and the story ends. And that’s often how the story is portrayed. They get punished and we don’t hear about them again. This is a story continuing, this is the rest of that story. It isn’t comfortable and it isn’t easy, but it’s a something worth talking about.

Verb Theatre’s Blackbird runs until November 18. More information is available online.

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