Flipping the Bird
Not far from Joe Adler's GableStage, convicted sex offenders live under a bridge because they're not allowed to live anywhere else. Many of us in the surrounding area are happy about that; we think the bridge is a perfectly good place for those people, if we really must share terra firma with the bastards at all. Which is why even now, in this Enlightened Year of Our Lord 2008, it is still rather ballsy for Adler to put on a show like David Horrower's Blackbird. The play is not friendly to its pedophile, but it also refuses to make him a monster. This simple refusal is, you can bet, more than enough to set off alarms. Or it would be, if GableStage had a less tolerant audience.
But that's not the case. Adler has groomed his audience well, and now those brave men and women can deal with just about anything. Which means there's a real possibility Blackbird could scoot through South Florida without pissing off a single soul. That would be a shame, of course: Plays like this one exist to piss people off; when people get pissed, they get talking, and if nobody's talking about your play, you might as well have done Carousel instead and made some of that big money for a change.
Blackbird follows an uncomfortable night in the life of a guy named Ray (Gordon McConnell), spent in an uncommonly filthy lunchroom where he works. This is where he has brought a woman named Una (Mary Rasmussen), who has come to call at the end of his workday. He's unhappy to see her, for he is 55 and Una is 27, and the two have not met since their affair ended 15 years ago. It ended poorly.
The whole play takes place in that dirty lunchroom. Ray is angry that Una has come to visit after he served his prison sentence, changed his name, and relocated, bringing his bad old life face to face with his squeaky-clean new one. Una is angry about everything, as you'd expect. The actors involved find traction in rubbing, as they must, against the social grain. McConnell's Ray is a bag of screaming nerves, not knowing whether to be irate at this girl for disrupting his peace, to be mad at himself once more for disrupting hers, or to fall prostrate before the grown-up version of the girl he once thought he loved. The same ambiguities look likely to tear Una to pieces, even if the actress incarnating her hasn't been around long enough to learn McConnell's finesse.
It suffices to say Blackbird is ambiguous enough to fuck with anybody's received wisdom, and human enough to make its critique stick — and that the only mention of anything resembling rape in the whole play is Una's raving description of how the cops finally found the evidence that would put Ray in prison. If this is upsetting, great. Buy a ticket. Heckle these child molesters in thespians' clothing. Enlist your neighbor, picket the Biltmore, and call your congressman. GableStage needs people like you almost as much as we need them.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Miami and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.