Experimental feature

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Experimental feature

The first 10 minutes of David Harrower’s Blackbird consist of an almost incomprehensible throat-clearing. Ray, played by Jeff Daniels, and Una, played by Alison Pill, walk into the litter- filled canteen of a nondescript corporation, and there, under harsh fluorescents, they, um, well, you know, talk, hmm, kind of, sort of, like, whew, this.

Just as this inchoate dialogue starts to drag, we learn why it is so halting: Una is looking for a way to confront Ray about their sexual affair of 15 years earlier, which took place when she was only 12 and has ruined her emotionally. “I hate the life I’ve had,” she says, confessing her subsequent promiscuity and self-recrimination.

Ray, who is in his 50s, has also been hollowed out. Daniels, in corporate shirt and tie, has integrity: he never tries to charm us, which would make the character creepy, and he avoids too much pathos, which would be unconvincing.

Pill imbues Una with intermittent fervour. Coming after similarly constructed dramas by Mamet and LaBute, a young woman dredging up discomfort with a much older male is nothing markedly fresh. But Pill brings Una to a boil at exactly the right moments. And when she lets her hair down, you see the insecure child behind the faux-confident adult.

Well-staged by the director Joe Mantello, this Blackbird, which had an award-winning run with a different cast last season in London, keeps threatening to break out of its constraints into something authentically disturbing. But the recollective structure works against it. Too much of the dialogue consists of Una and Ray rehashing the past, which gives the interval-less evening a gloss of clinical verisimilitude while robbing it of immediate, compelling reality.
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