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The Statesman

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    Blackbird

    Ever indulged in the teen flick “My Life as a Teenage Drama Queen?” If the answer is yes, you probably remember the demure girl (Ella) who outshone Lindsay Lohan’s star role. The girl I am talking about is Allison Pill, who is performing a feverishly sexual role that matures so much more over the film genre that she began with. Accompanied by Jeff Daniels of “Good Night and Good Luck” fame, Pill brings justice and completeness to a performance that will overpower you with its intense dramatization.

    “Blackbird” is currently playing at the Manhattan Theater Club. Directed by Joe Mantello, the 90-minute drama relates a gripping tale about the downhill transformation of a sexual relationship. Don’t get too excited – there is no pornography. In fact, the play doesn’t even come close to porn because all that ever comes off is a coat and a scarf. But the feeling is still brilliantly translated to the audience.

    The plot revolves around 40 year-old Ray (played by Daniels) and 12 year-old Una (played by Pills). You can now just imagine where this is heading. But before you dismiss this as another “Lolita” saga, take a moment to appreciate the transparency of the characters. Mantello has not hesitated in leaving his actors completely bare (figuratively speaking, of course). This new notion is actually not that new. Naked theater has been used for a while now, starting from productions of “Lolita” to “Anna Karenina.”

    As for the plotline, it is amazingly (yet creepily) universal. The characters have no specific location or nationality. They both come from the same town – Ray living a few blocks from Una and her family. And then the abuse starts for three prolonged months, ultimately leading to Ray serving a prison term. Of course, we don’t see any of this.

    Instead, Ray has started a new life in a new town and is now known as Peter. His bare office between bright sterile walls is in stark contrast to the dark and dirty character of Ray. Una finds Ray’s picture in a magazine and goes to meet him one unannounced afternoon.

    “Blackbird” succeeds in providing a drama with immediacy. The drama is heightened by Peter’s colleagues who walk on- and off-stage with swift nameless motions. We are aware that they talk about him and this visitor. The successive and quick dialogue delivery on the part of Pills and Daniels augments the intensity and tension of the drama.

    What I thought was the best asset of the play was its one-dimensionality. One man. One woman. One confrontation. One story. The oneness led to concentration of all the emotions so that they emerged with simplicity. After all, it is so much easier and better to follow the story of say, Hilary Swank in “Million Dollar Baby” than to keep track of the multitude of characters in “Ocean’s Eleven.” Sometimes, the chopping and the pluralism becomes a bit overwhelming and, by avoiding that, this play outshines.

    My only complaint with the play is that I felt it dealt with the main theme inadequately. The plot catalyst is the “abuse,” but the play treats it as the central theme. Instead, it is more of a motif and should have been treated like one.

    The original play was written by a Scottish playwright and overtook such household names as Tom Stoppard (remember my review of the “Coast of Utopia?”). It won the Laurence Olivier award for best new play in London, which is quite an honor in a pool that competitive.

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