Blackbird

By Philip Pearce

TEN YEARS BEFORE #MeToo exploded into the headlines, Scots playwright David Harrower won an Olivier best new play award with a script called Blackbird about an enraged sexual abuse victim who seeks out and confronts her long-lost abuser. PacRep has just opened a powerful new version of the play. The direction and acting are top flight. The text sometimes makes you want to wince but you can’t stop watching every dark moment of the story.

BlackbirdA girl named Una storms into the workplace of a man named Ray. Fifteen years ago he was arrested, tried and imprisoned for a consensual sexual relationship he had with her, when he was forty and she was twelve. Released from jail, he’s changed his name to Peter, moved to a different town, taken on an identity carefully crafted to avoid the traits of chronic sex abusers outlined in pop psychology books. She tracks him down from a magazine ad for his medical supply firm. They meet and do battle in the soulless and littered locker-room canteen of Ray’s workplace. She wants him to fill in gaps in what she knows and doesn’t know about what happened fifteen years ago. He wants at all cost to protect his shaky new identity and lifestyle.

We seem to be on the verge of a highly charged feminist attack against a blundering middle-brow abuser. But “seem“ is the operative word throughout Blackbird. The play’s power comes from the way this couple’s unfettered explosions of rage and disillusionment are offered with a clinical detachment that lets them explode without reaction or comment. Harrower refuses to launch attacks, choose sides, hand out value judgments or score moral points against  these two flawed humans. Their story is laid out with a cool balance that makes terms like “victim” and “abuser” meaningless.

Kenneth Kelleher directs like a conductor at work on a symphony. The thunderclouds of feeling burst with full-throated force, but the mood and volume shift and soften as Michael Ray Wisely’s anxious Ray and Tavi Carpenter’s angry Una begin to reflect more deeply on the pain and humiliation each has visited on the other. She shows up, all controlled rage, a desperate, determined and overdressed woman ready for a carefully planned attack on someone who has ruined her life but whom she still can‘t help finding attractive. His responses grow more and more like the struggles of a caged animal as he tries to play the successful department head of a prestigious business with an embarrassingly filthy staff canteen.

As they battle, it’s clear when, where and how their past sexual encounters took place. And it’s clear how their pathetic affair has left ugly, unhealed gashes in both of them. But areas of uncertainty hover above every new revelation. Ray and Una probe, accuse, justify their furtive couplings in an out-of-town boarding house. But who is telling the whole truth and when are they not telling it? Each needs to understand areas of mystery left unsolved when Ray was snatched away by the police and Una’s adolescent body was probed and pumped and analyzed as a piece of forensic sexual evidence. The clinical detail is searing, explicit and ugly.

The action eventually slows to a point where the couple seem to have exhausted the depths and shoals of their dark partnership. They seem ready to move on. In a surprise burst of black comedy they up-end all the trash cans and litter the sordid locker room with uncollected garbage in a kind of crazy death dance offered to a past that seems to have finally lost its power to destroy them. But “seems” is still the operative term. A third significant character, played by the gifted Colette Gsell, enters and things start to happen that suggest the possibility that everything that has happened so far may not really have  been all that therapeutic. We may have been watching two wounded people relive the same ingrained attitudes and obsessions that caused their tragedy in the first place. Watch that last quarter of an hour and you look back and wonder.

Blackbird is the kind of show that raises questions and sometimes leaves the answers to you. I am as keen as anyone else on recreational theater. But if, even just occasionally, you buy a play ticket in the hope of something more than just a night of fun in Carmel, I doubt you’ll soon see anything that can match the raw power and realism of this production.

It continues at the Circle Theatre through May 27th.

Weekly Magazine

ClairdeeTHIS WEEK

“TO PAULINE WITH LOVE,” Camerata Singers’ fond farewell to their treasured accompanist, pianist Pauline Troia, as she retires after three-plus decades. APRIL IN SANTA CRUZ series finale at UC Santa Cruz. SANTA CRUZ BAROQUE FESTIVAL season finale, “New Music in Old Styles.” WOMEN IN JAZZ: “The Power of the Feminine Voice”at UCSC features acclaimed Clairdee (above.) MOTHER’S DAY celebrated by YOUTH MUSIC MONTEREY in Carmel and the SANTA CRUZ COUNTY YOUTH SYMPHONY in Capitola; both programs feature concerto competition student winners. For details and links to all the other live performances in the region, click our CALENDAR and on the ads, left.

gauld_backgroundNEW YORKER’S SOUNDTRACK TO SPRING

CAN YOU identify all the ‘spring’ music quotes? Click HERE

 

 

 

 

 

CABRILLO FEST’S CRISTIAN MĂCELARU MOVES UP

NAMED TO SUCCEED Jukka-Pekka Saraste at helm of WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne’s principal orchestra.

THE ANCIENT MUSIC TRADITION OF SYRIA

PERHAPS THE FIRST written music notation on clay tablets from c. 1400 BCE. With musical samples. Click HERE

LEONARD BERNSTEIN’S MISJUDGMENT ABOUT MAHLER

LENNY REJECTED THE 10TH SYMPHONY as unfinished. He was wrong to do so. Available for a limited time only, a video performance from 16 days ago (Apr 22, 2018) of Simon Rattle conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in Michael Tippett’s The Rose Lake; Vision of St Augustine, and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 10—completed by the composer but not fully orchestrated—in the Deryck Cooke performance edition. These are the last major works by each composer for which Simon Rattle has been an advocate, fiercely for the Mahler. Set aside the better part of three hours for this entire program which includes intros and interviews conducted by Rachel Leach. This is a very rare opportunity that will not come around again.

Robert Commanday’s once-visionary San Francisco Classical Voice still pretends that Mahler’s Tenth Symphony doesn’t exist, Click HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

louis xivTHE ROYAL FUNERALS OF ‘SUN KING’ LOUIS XIV

A 100-MINUTE recreation of official obsequies at the end of a by-then much despised and ridiculed 72-year reign, recorded before a live audience in November 2015 on the 300th anniversary of the king’s death, in the Chapelle Royale de Versailles by five superb vocal soloists and the Pygmalion Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Raphaël Pichon and directed by videographer Stéphane Vérité. Its best and most opulent music are three motets composed by Michel-Richard Delalande (1567-1726): De profundis, La Grande pièce royale and Dies Irae (which includes the famous original melody.) The album includes both DVD and Blu-ray discs. This will primarily appeal to early Baroque music aficionados. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

110 WOMEN COMPOSERS

A VALIANT EFFORT but missing a great many other important ones; each comes with a fragment of her music. Click HERE

AN EXTRAORDINARY MOMENT

FROM LAST WEEK, Salinas native and well-known California opera and concert soprano Aimée Puentes sent us this story in answer to our request:

Aimee3ABOUT THREE WEEKS AGO, I noticed on Facebook that a friend from high school had been admitted to the hospital. I wasn’t sure why and continued to check his page to see if there were any updates. He had complained about been poked and prodded and couldn’t wait to go home. Then about a week ago, he posted that he was not going home and in fact had one week to live. I was shocked. As we exchanged a couple of messages, he mentioned that he had never heard me sing.

I was devastated by his news and felt I needed to visit him and sing to him before his passing. I tried to think of what I could sing and thought how lovely it would be to get a small group of volunteer singers together, and the first piece that popped into my head was Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus and possibly a few others. I emailed Metropolitan Opera star Susanne Mentzer, Camerata Singers’ John Koza, The Western Stage’s Melissa Chin-Parker and Monterey Peninsula Voices president Chris Hasegawa to see if they had any suggestions. They were all very helpful and suddenly I had a wonderful ensemble, several were singers that I had never met. They were all very much wanting to be a part of this group, singing to a total stranger who had less than a week to live. Needless to say, I was thrilled to have so many wonderful singers who were eager to take time out of their busy lives and lend their voices.

We met on Thursday evening in the meditation room at CHOMP to run through Ave Verum Corpus and Amazing Grace. Then proceeded to a waiting room where my friend, his wife and kids and other family and friends were gathered. We ended with a unison version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, as I was too overcome with emotion to sing it as a solo. There were many more singers wanting to participate. However, I wanted to keep the group on the smaller side so as not to overwhelm the family and bother other patients. It was a very touching few minutes that I will never forget. I am truly grateful for these singers who shared their gifts with me and my friend.

Very sad circumstances, but I feel that God gave me the gift of singing and if I can ever give back and try to bring a little comfort, this is a way to do it: Love and light for my friend and praying for his peaceful transition.

The singers who participated were, Elizabeth Ellen Neff, Audrey Lizette Deunas Puentes, Susanne Mentzer, Nancy Tanner Miccoli, Leberta Lorál, Reg Huston, David Wittrock, Mike Russell, Chris Hasegawa, Robert Stephenson, Brian Jacobson and a lady whose name I unfortunately don’t recall.

OUR FIRST HALF MILLION

ON MAY 1, PAMB’s fifth birthday, our WordPress tally of visits to our website totaled 499,901 since inception on May 1, 2013. On May 2, that figure jumped to 500,519. Our responsibility is to provide you with the information and links you need to choose which live performance events in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties meet your taste and desires. Many of the local print media go further, to spoon-feed their readers with overblown and overwritten recommendations, something we find mostly gratuitous. Your responsibility is to step up to the plate as an informed and discerning ‘consumer’ of live performing arts and artists. We trust you as much as we believe you trust us.

THE GUYS WHO INVENTED NEW ORLEANS FUNK

THANK YOU Dr John!

 

 

 

 

 

 

FRESH REVIEWS

THE ODD COUPLE at Jewel Theatre in Santa Cruz; ASSASSINS at Mountain Community Theater, Ben Lomond. Click HERE

SANTA CRUZ SYMPHONY’S “Resurrection” Symphony, and I CANTORI chorus at Carmel Mission. Click HERE

NEXT WEEK

MONTEREY SYMPHONY’S “Concert Grand” season finale, features Philippe Bianconi in Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto and Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, plus Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. THE MYSTICAL ARTS OF TIBET at Carmel’s Forest Theater. 2018 HA MBONGUI African dance conference at the Tannery in Santa Cruz.

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Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor