David Harrower’s haunting play, “Blackbird” as the newest edition in the Fulton’s Ellen Arnold Groff Studio Series, tells a chillingly realistic tale of a man named Ray (Jeffrey Coon) and his confrontation with a young woman named Una (Kate Fahrner). When the play begins, it is quickly revealed that Ray had a romantic relationship with Una when she was twelve years old. The play occurs fifteen years later after this traumatic event. Una is now severely scarred from their affair, and intends to let Ray know just what he did to her. Ray on the other hand, intends to show Una that he has changed and is not the same man he was fifteen years ago. Harrower’s script gives both character’s vulnerable moments that plays with the audience’s expectations and naturally makes them question who is telling the truth.
Jeffrey Coon is menacing and yet strangely empathetic as Ray. Coon does not play Ray as a one-note villain, and therefore is always challenging Kate Fahrner’s Una and the audience on what to believe. At many moments in the play, the audience is disturbed by this man and what he did to Una, but then throughout there are shades of genuine care that adds to the character’s complexity. Coon shares heartbreakingly real chemistry with Fahrner’s Una. It is seen through Coon’s portrayal that Ray did genuinely love her which only adds to the actor’s portrayal of this complex man.
Kate Fahrner is hauntingly convincing as the deeply damaged Una. Fahrner’s thin build and fragile physicality vividly brings to life someone who has been continually knocked down by abuse. The character comes into William James Mohney’s messy office break room set with a command that Ray can immediately see right through. As the evening goes on, the audience watches Una’s physical walls break down until she finally delivers a heart-crushing monologue that explicitly recounts the trauma of her affair with Ray. Fahrner delivers this monologue with a horrific frankness that chills in its realism. Fahrner’s detoriation for the character of Una is unnervingly raw and yet extremely well developed.
William James Mohney’s ominously trashy office break room set with dimly atmospheric lighting by Josh Schlader creates a world of gloom that hits audience members even before the actors step onto the stage. The Fulton’s studio theatre in the past has been transformed into an Irish pub and a Victorian mansion, the starkness of Mohney’s current setting for “Blackbird” reinforces greatly the sense of paranoia and danger that is seen through Harrower’s haunting words.
Matt Pfeiffer pulls off a miraculous task with “Blackbird.” He creates an evening of theatre that feels completely rooted in real time. The performances he gets out of both Fahrner and Coon are shockingly real and true to life. Kelsey Bomba’s costumes and hair, especially for Una, helped to reinforce the character’s rough edges. Her heels and a low-cut dress suggests that Una is still very much the child-like self she was fifteen years ago.
All of the creative elements with the powerful performances from Coon and Fahrner create a piece of theatre that is thought provoking and ultimately crushing. The Fulton in the past has done great work with upbeat musicals, but the theatre and art frankly is also meant to provoke conversation about our own lives. “Blackbird” is not an easy watch by any means, but it is important in its themes of abuse and lust. It’s incredibly damaged characters and words are ones that audience members should, and deserve to listen to.