Thursday, February 15, 2018

BLACKBIRD • St. Louis Actors’ Studio

The air in a dreary office lunchroom is thick when Ray finds himself there with Una. They haven’t seen each other since their relationship ended fifteen years ago -- when he was 40 and she was 12.

It seems eerily timely that St. Louis Actors’ Studio would stage David Harrower’s disturbing drama now, amidst the attention the MeToo movement has garnered with sexual abuse and harassment allegations taking up residence in the headlines. Braced with strong performances and unyielding direction, the psychological bruises on our two characters, sustained as a result of a young girl’s sexualization, will leave a mark.

After seeing a picture of Ray (John Pierson) and his work colleagues in a magazine, Una (Elizabeth Birkenmeier) has tracked him down and stands before him, like an exposed nerve, looking for answers, while he fidgets in a panic of annoyance and apprehension. Their first words to each other are sporadic and fraught, but after their pretense dissolves away, they give recollections of their three-month relationship, the night it all ended, and the perverse connection that neither has managed to be rid of is laid bare. After pursuing an increasing level of intimacy with Una after meeting her at a family barbecue, Ray was subsequently convicted of child abuse. Their involvement led Ray to prison, and left Una emotionally incapacitated.

Ray (John Pierson) and Una (Elizabeth Birkenmeier).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Pierson and Birkenmeier’s performances are stunning. Pierson's reluctance to being pulled back into a perilous allure is painfully believable. He's willing to admit guilt, but not necessarily wrongdoing, achieving a level of honesty that manages to illicit a modicum of pity. Birkenmeier reveals a woman whose maturity has been stunted -- confused but still wanting to please, and still mourning what she sees as an unrequited love. Annamaria Pileggi’s direction is carefully calibrated, maintaining a constant undercurrent of unease, heightened by Patrick Huber’s cluttered set and the close quarters of the Gaslight Theater. 

Una (Elizabeth Birkenmeier)
and Ray (John Pierson).
Photo credit: Patrick Huber
Harrower’s play doesn’t moralize or judge. Maybe that’s what makes it so unsettling. It’s bare essentials, taking an unflinching look at two people who, just under the surface, are beyond repair. Blackbird is playing at the Gaslight Theater until the 25th.


BLACKBIRD

Written by David Harrower
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through February 25 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Cast
Una: Elizabeth Birkenmeier
Ray: John Pierson*
Girl: Sienna Hahn

Creative
Assistant Director: Daniel Washelesky
Stage Manager: Amy J. Paige*
Scenic and Lighting Designer: Patrick Huber
Sound Designer: John Pierson*
Technical Director: Joseph Novak
Costume Designer: Teresa Doggett
Props Design: Jess Stamper
Light Board Operator: Sally Liz Evans
Sound Board Operator: Amy J. Paige*
Master Electrician: Dalton Robison
House Manager: Kimberly Sansone

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

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