AISLE SAY/ Florida
by David Harrower
Directed by Beth Duda
Starring Dan Patrick Brady & Sarah Stockton
Florida Studio Theatre's Gompertz Stage III
Palm & Cocoanut Aves., Sarasota, 941-366-9000
April 27 to May 7, 2009
Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker
As if catapulted into the cramped,
bleary company lunchroom, Dan Patrick
Brady as Ray hysterically tries
to shake off and at the same time hide Una (Sarah Stockton). She's seen
him in a published photo and tracked him down. Slowly, it's revealed
he'd deflowered and then left her in an inn 15 years earlier. She was
12; he, 40. Having served a sentence, this "blackbird" (probably
a reference to British slang for "jailbird") changed his name,
location, work. A new career and normal relationship with a woman
seem lately to have solidified. In the tryst's aftermath, in
which Una considers herself having been violated by doctors, police,
society, she endured her father's fatally blaming himself, followed by
isolation from family and living a sexually ugly life. Social and
sexual adjustment seem to have come only recently.
Why has Una sought Ray out?
Revenge, recrimination? Or does she want reasons for the abandonment or
to learn his real current status? Could it be possible she desires him,
after all? As for Ray, was he, as he insists, "not one of them"
(predators) but "overcome" just once, entranced, or seduced by her?
Didn't he leave her to help both of them immediately get over the
affair, then atone painfully through years of horrible treatment in
prison and treading the hard path to his present life and work? All are
questions without answer, despite a seeming build-up to one during
nearly 90 minutes of verbal and sometimes physical conflict, but with a
final surprise twist.
How much interest and speculation
stirs up may depend on how familiar or shocking the subject
matter is to an audience. It seems to be pretty ho-hum to regulars at
FST's generally edgy Gompertz Stage III productions, and
be old hat to those who viewed How I Learned to Drive on the
mainstage years ago. Those who like Pinteresque pauses or the staccato,
rough-cadenced Mamet style will appreciate David Harrower's here.
Ultimately, the effect depends on the actors, though. Unfortunately,
Dan Patrick Brady hits the stage shouting and for too long keeps the
volume up and steady; the emotional impact has nowhere to go but down
early on. Words, of which the play is more than full, often get lost,
as does his accent. Sarah Stockton's is more consistent, and
she's able to use body language effectively too. Still, Brady looks his
part and memorably plays one of the most cogent scenes, spreading
garbage, but actually defining Ray "in the moment." Stockton's
prettiness adds to the ambiguity of Una. One gets the feeling that
director Beth Duda basically
let the actors have their way with their
characters. A setting with geometrically arranged wall of grayed-out
windows and everyday wear for costumes costume are adequate.
Bruce Price's lighting is artfully natural for the scene.
It's hard to figure why, other
than for stylistics or because it prompts tour de force performances,
Blackbird has been winner of
the Olivier and other critical accolades.
Perhaps there hasn't been enough competition or better competing works
have cancelled each other out. Maybe there's a bias favoring "in
yer face" plays over milder or intellectual or clearly dramatically
structured ones. What's different about Blackbird is that it is almost
entirely exposition, except for the brief denouement. What would
ordinarily be rising and falling action consists of two extended
narratives-monologues, really. They are welcome because until they come
there is no action and barely any activity. What's notable to me about
Blackbird is that it breaks
the current trend of replacing drama with
straight narrative broken up and illustrated or punctuated by
dramatized scenes. Oh, yes, and here the monologues each tell
their story in traditional chronological order-not shifting or
backwards in time, devices which so often pass for modern or
How compelling are Ray and Una?
How absorbing is their story? Would one return to Harrower's play
because of style and substance? Or if one cared to see it again, would
it be to experience some good performances? Or to try to answer
questions about characters and motives not determined on a first
viewing? I suspect it's the last that would inspire a return to FST's
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