There are visions of the American Dream that are so rose-tinted that almost anyone looking from the outside in would rightly think there are delusions of grandeur going on. And then there’s Blackbird, a show that had me wishing Froggy (Lauren Drennan) and the equally oddly-monikered Baylis (Laurence Bourne) to pick themselves up and dust themselves off; it doesn’t quite work out like that. I think of this play as being a slimmed down modern-day version of the famous Puccini opera ‘La Boheme’ – particularly in its ending, which came across just as poignant even without the operatic singing and an orchestra really going for it.
It’s highly naturalistic, and at the same time, it’s not an easy ride. At times a bit of a slow-burner, the play, set over the course of one day, which just so happens to be Christmas Eve, loads up volley after volley of adversity. It’s all rather like the first chapter of the Book of Job in the Old Testament, where messenger after messenger comes along with bad news, and more bad news, and then some more. Except here, our roommates do not simply bury their heads into their religion – they have no discernible faith, as far as I could tell – but sadly, and somewhat poignantly, find themselves stuck in a rut.
I suppose depicting relatively normal people would make for a less powerfully dramatic narrative. I couldn’t help feeling some sympathy for Baylis as he tells his story of his previous military career and how he ended up in his current circumstances. There was some humour, too, particularly when Baylis and Froggy misunderstand one another. It’s one thing for, say, a Briton and an American to be two people divided by a common language, but for two Americans to grossly mishear what the other is saying is doubly hilarious. For some, I suspect, the recurring confusion may prove tiresome and outlast its welcome, but I found it a welcome relief from the bleakness of the show as a whole.
It could do, maybe, with being a tad pacier: I was zoning out occasionally, struggling to retain ttention. Elsewhere, the script simply lacks subtlety, as American scripts tend to do when heard with British ears – only in New York (in my humble opinion, anyway) would “dickless faggot” constitute some sort of compliment; even here, Baylis would rather not be called “dickless” but is nonetheless more accommodating to “f*ckface”. Baylis grows increasingly frustrated with both himself, Froggy, his friends (for want of a better word), and even a blackbird who is apparently perennially pecking at the apartment window. Oddly, though, the play is never quite hopeless, for even in the passing of a life in the, ahem, dying moments, there’s a sense that the person concerned is finally at peace.
I wondered whether an interval should be retained; although there are plays these days that can and do go the length (time-wise) of Blackbird without one, on balance, as far as this show is concerned, it should be kept in. It’s a good opportunity to come up for air, as it were, before plunging headfirst once more into Froggy and Baylis’ world. What adds to the sense of needing a breather is the unusually dense and detailed script; there’s a lot of sub-stories to be absorbed.
There’s also a compelling implied lesson in all of this dark depression: choose your friends wisely. Some people come together and draw on one another’s energy and vigour. Froggy and Baylis rub off on one another, but not in a good way – it’s all quite heart-breaking in the end. This is a satisfying show that left me feeling I’d seen a strong play, even if it is not always easy viewing, and arguably laced with a few too many expletives. This is thought-provoking and intelligent theatre that pulls no punches and tells it like it is.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Blackbird, written by Adam Rapp and directed by Lindsey Higgins, is centered on the deteriorating relationship of two junkie lovers. It is a less thank beguiling look at New York City’s lower depths mixing drugs, degradation, and defecation. Blackbird is suitable for ages 18+ and runs on 14, 17, 25, 26, 30, 31 March at 8:00pm.
Twitter: @ThreebranchF @LoneTreeTheatre