Mark Snowden and Jocelyn Fitz-Gibbon in the Bricks Theatre's <i>Blackbird</i>.
"I was never one of them," says Ray, distinguishing himself from what he thinks are real pedophiles, even though he had a sexual relationship with a 12-year-old girl when he was 40.
Now 55, out of prison and living under a different name, Ray has an unexpected collision with the past when his victim, Una, tracks him down and confronts him in the nondescript building where he now works.
Blackbird, written by Scotland's David Harrower and currently staged by the Bricks Theatre at 827 E. Washington Ave., examines the shifting dynamic between Ray and Una a decade and a half after their disastrous encounters. Though Una has the upper hand at first -- she has the element of surprise -- old emotions are uncovered during the course of their 80-minute conversation in a litter-strewn break room.
Though the 2005 play seeks to mine a certain moral ambiguity -- to what extent was Una a willing participant in the "relationship" and what exactly does she want from Ray now? -- the problem is that the events described in Blackbird, upon even momentary thought, are not ambiguous. They're inexcusable, even if the characters still delude themselves.
A play like John Patrick Shanley's Doubt: A Parable leaves the audience with genuine uncertainty: did the popular young priest really molest a boy? Harrower's play attempts something different. We know that sexual abuse has occurred, and yet we are still asked to wonder if Ray is not such a monster after all, and if Una had real desire for Ray. It's a difficult sell, and Harrower's script and Bricks' production don't fully carry it off.
The cheeky title doesn't help ("blackbird" is British slang for "jailbait"). And, of course, we live in world saturated with sexualized images of girls, leading adult men to creepy rationalizations like Ray's when he says to Una, "You weren't like other children."
As played by Mark Snowden, Ray is more sad-sack than aggressor. Feeling that he's paid his debt to society, he wishes to live an anonymous existence. In his mind, Una's surprise appearance is an unfair rehashing of the past.
Jocelyn Fitz-Gibbon's Una starts strong, but ultimately ends up seeming like wacky, damaged goods, and it's hard to know whether that unpleasant outcome is more the result of the script or Fitz-Gibbon's portrayal, directed here by Peter Hunt.
Perhaps most telling is that the playwright has Una speak the most explicit lines, as when she recalls sex acts in a hotel. It's as if Harrower doesn't have the nerve to make Ray say these lines, knowing full well that the audience would lose whatever ill-founded sympathy it has built up for him.
Though Blackbird is a one-act play, some of the longer monologues drag, and it's hard for things not to feel a bit static when the characters are confined to a dreary break room. A number of the characters' actions seem improbable. On the positive side, there's a twist at the end that I won't reveal, except to say that it adds a dose of much-needed realism where children are concerned.