Dramatic “Blackbird” singing in Hartford

Bonnie Goldberg

Blackbirds, a species of thrush, are indigenous to Europe, Asia, North Africa, Australia and New Zealand.  They are also known as crows, ravens, rooks and jackdaws.  A sacred yet destructive bird in classical Greek folklore, that dies if it eats a pomegranate, in medieval times, in nursery rhymes, became the popular ingredient of a pie for the king.  We all remember “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie” who were placed alive under a pie crust and, once cut, popped out and sang before the monarch.

“Blackbird” is the title of a new drama by David Harrower what has already been a breathtaking hit in London and New York and is making its New England premiere at Hartford TheaterWorks until Sunday, May 11.  The title probably has no reference to the nursery rhyme’s song of sixpence, but it might have a connection to the Beatles song of the same name:  “Blackbirds sing in the dead of night, Take these broken wings and learn to fly, All your life, You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”

David Harrower’s “Blackbird” is a confrontation, long delayed, between Una, a confused and needy young woman, played with conflicting thoughts and vengeful moods by a convincing Beth Wittig. Una, with her broken wings, has waited years to find Ray, an older man who placed her fragile friendship in a vulnerable and dangerous plateau and then abandoned her.

Ray, remorseful and apologetic, is played by a sympathy seeking J. Tucker Smith, with just the right balance of tenderness and guilt.  He has changed his name and his location and moved on in life and now is abruptly summoned back in time for an accounting of his actions and deeds that occurred more than a dozen years ago.  Tears and recriminations flow in this tornado of emotions as Una accuses and Ray defends what happened between them.  Amy Saltz directs this mature themed, adult only, drama in the unique and intimate setting that makes the audience feel they are sucked into a  whirling conflagration.

For tickets ($37,47, 58), call TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford at 860-527-7838 or online at www.theaterworkshartford.org. ; Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.

The thin lines between hatred and love, repulsion and fascination, blur in “Blackbird,” the winner of Britain’s highest theatrical honor, the Lawrence Olivier Award for Best New Play and The New York Times’ Top Ten Plays of 2007. This  review appeared in The Middletown Press on April 24, 2008.

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