By David Harrower
Presented by The Necessary Theater
Directed by Topper Fabregas
Sept. 8 to 10, 8 p.m., Sept. 10, 3 p.m.
Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC
Plaza, Ayala Ave., Makati City
THERE are two numbers one has to keep firmly in mind while watching The Necessary Theater’s production of David Harrower’s Blackbird – 12 and 40.
It also helps to remember what statutory rape is – sexual activity, often without overt force or threat, in which one of the individuals is below the age required to legally consent to the behavior.
This is because the playwright, especially at the beginning of the piece, manages to almost – almost – make the person who is by most standards a monster, almost seem the victim, and the victim the monster.
The play starts off with a 27-year-old woman, Una – played by Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante – being hustled into the nondescript staff kitchen of an office by a 55-year-old man, Ray – played by Bart Guingona – who tries to keep her away from his co-workers. The audience quickly learns why he wants her to keep her voice down – 15 years earlier, when Una was 12, Ray seduced her over the course of several months, culminating in a weekend trip where everything quickly fell apart.
Ray was sentenced to nearly four years for statutory rape. After his release, he moved to another town, took a new name, and made a new life for himself. And it is this new life, painstakingly pieced together by a thoroughly repentant Ray, that the strident Una’s visit – sparked when she saw a photo in a trade magazine – threatens to unravel. As Ray rebuilt his life, Una grew up in the same town where everyone knew what happened to her, her life totally defined by the events that happened over those three months, and she is here, in Ray’s office, apparently seeking revenge.
Over the course of 90 minutes (no intermission), the story of those three months, and most importantly that weekend, unfolds, and the audience is witness to the emotional rollercoaster that these two very complex characters find themselves on. Was Una really a victim? If she was, was it of Ray or was she more victimized by the lawyers, her parents, society, after everything? Is Ray really a pedophile – a word that is not uttered once in the play – or did he truly care for Una? Was what they had together, essentially, horribly, basically, a love story?
It is a thoroughly disturbing play. And in less capable hands, it would have been a disaster. Luckily, this time Guingona opted not to do double duty as actor and director as he has successfully done before, most recently in Red, and instead put himself in the able hands of director Topper Fabregas. This left him free to concentrate on creating a stunningly nuanced character that has the audience on the verge of believing him, siding with him. (Guingona confessed that he needs a drink after rehearsals.)
And Bradshaw-Volante (Carrie, Fun Home) not just holds her own against the veteran actor, she triumphs, most especially in the traumatic, agonizing monologue about the last night the 12-year-old spent with her lover.
She is, in the end, the heart and soul of Blackbird. – Alicia A. Herrera
Tickets to Blackbird range in price from P500 to P1,200 and are available through TicketWorld. This play is for adults only.