GUEST REVIEW: Jocasta Rex Returns To Review BLACKBIRD At ETC

Published on April 27, 2017 by   ·   No Comments

Hey there World of Champagne readers!  As you know, Miss Jaye has been diving deep into many, many projects lately, and that doesn’t always leave her a lot of time left for some of her other loves like attending the theatre.  She’s trying to get out to see Blackbird at the Empire Theatre, but just in case she can’t make it or goes too late to provide a review while the show is open we’ve arranged a special treat for you: Jocasta Rex, who previously guest-reviewed Hairspray featuring our own Miss Jaye as Edna Turnblad for this site last August, has written a review of the show and has graciously allowed us to post that review here.   This review previously appeared on the Stage Mama blog and the original post can be found HERE.  Enjoy!

Blackbird 01

Blackbird at Empire Theatre

Now, you all know Jocasta is no stranger to sexual controversy.  Or, maybe you don’t know it.  But let’s just say I have a few skeletons knocking around in my closet.  The heart loves who it loves, okay?  But as Luther Ingram crooned: if you know that loving someone was wrong, would you want to be right?

Blackbird 03Yes, this show has some nasty words.  But nasty words are gonna be used when the plot revolves around a woman who, fifteen years after the act, seeks out the man who had an “affair” with her when she was 12 and he was 40.  A plot like that is going to call for some strong language, and if the language is going to bother you but not the plot, you might want to gives some deep thought to that.

So, we have some nasty words and a plot revolving around a pedophile and his victim, now an adult.  Why in the world would anyone want to see this play?  Is it entertainment?

I suppose some might find it “entertaining,” just like some find cockfights entertaining.

No, you don’t buy a ticket to see Blackbird because it’s going to make you roll in your seat laughing, or cause you to tap your toe.

You go see Blackbird because it allows you to become a fly on the oh, so messy break room wall where a victim confronts her abuser, whom she thoughts (thinks?) she loved when she was 12-years-old. You go to see Blackbird because – while in Jocasta’s opinion there ain’t no excuse for an adult to have sex with a minor – you want to hear what this guy has to say.  How’s he rationalize his actions?  Can he rationalize his actions?  (Just go ahead and try, buster.)

You go to Blackbird because two local actors bravely take on these roles.  So, let’s talk about them.

Blackbird 04Paige Greenwood, who plays Una, earned her BFA in Theatre from NDSU which is why she may be a new face to Grand Forks Theatre-goers.  Her bio in the program states she plans to enroll in the graduate acting program at Mankato State in the fall.  The kid’s clearly got chops.  The role requires her to turn up the volume on anger, grief, disillusionment, confusion, and pain.  It seems that her life began and ended when she met Ray, the man who raped her when she was 12.  I believe that “rape” is my word, not hers.  Or she may have identified it as rape but she could have easily used the phrase “made love.”  You see, she’s confused about what her feelings were, what her feelings are, what his feelings were/are…and this confusion pours out over the course of her interrogation of Ray in the very messy break room of his place of employment.  Ms. Greenwood does an excellent job sustaining the messy emotions required of the role.  It’s a shame she’s moving to Mankato.  She’s one I’d like to see again on another Grand Forks stage.  Like maybe the Fire Hall’s.

Then there’s the character of Ray, played by Darin Kerr.  Yes, that tall drink of water local theatre lovers of-a-certain-age have enjoyed watching grow up on stages from GF to Frost Fire and every little nook and theatrical cranny in between.  He left the community for a spell to pursue a Ph.D. at Bowling Green University then – lucky GF – returned.  He’s been instrumental in the success of shows at the Empire Arts Center – both as director and actor.  I am told that due to administrative incompetence, his position as UND has been eliminated and Dr. Kerr will be seeking new theatrical opportunities in the Twin Cities area.  In fact, this may be his last turn on local stages in a dramatic role. (He is slated to perform in this summer’s Putnam County Spelling Bee.  You will be able to laugh and tap your toe at that one.)

Blackbird 02Seeing Kerr in the role of Ray, who this reviewer found mostly repugnant, reminded her of Kerr’s turn as the priest in the play Doubt, produced a few years back at the Empire.  (He was guilty as charged by the nun!)  Bad actors relish playing repugnant characters.  It’s easy to over act when playing the bad guy.  Uh, not this actor.  Jocasta can never understand why a 40-year-old man would entertain seducing and then acting on that seduction of a child, but Kerr does not play Ray as a monster.  There are times when Ray seems sincerely confused about his actions.  That confusion comes off as genuine in the capable hands of Kerr.  At one point in the play, Una asks him if he was molested as a child.  Ray tells her that he wasn’t, at least he doesn’t think he was.  He says the prosecutors would have gone easier on him had he been.  But no.  That’s not the explanation for doing what he did.  There is no real explanation for why he acted on his lust.  He won’t even admit to feeling lust at their first meeting at a family barbeque.  (There’s a whole weird thing about his single pair of shorts.  But while it’s weird – it’s just the kind of detail people become fixated upon when recalling a critical incident in their lives.  Paraphrasing here: “I would have known if I was sexually attracted to you – I was wearing my only pair of shorts!”)

In any case, bravo to Dr. Kerr for taking on this role.  He brings humanity to what many would play as a one-dimensional perv.

Blackbird 05There is a third character at the end of the show, play by Miss Tessa Sanner, just recently turned 13.  She is charming and sweet and innocent and persistent in her short time on stage – just what the play calls for to make us question everything we have just heard and witnessed.

Finally, no review is complete without some commentary on the set.  There is none.  Emily Montgomery, the Empire’s Executive Director, is on maternity leave, and it’s clear some things have been left to slide.  (Really actors – clean up your mess!)

No, Jocasta just JK-ing.  Blackbird is staged in the black box in the basement of the Empire.  The messy break room with the ugly overhead fluorescent lights are clearly a metaphor for the situation that unfolds.  In the glaring ugly light of a barren break room, we are going to sift through the mess that Ray made of both their lives.

Got it.  Liked it.  It all works, Mr. Berrg.  Congratulations on a challenging undertaking.

Blackbird plays at the Empire Arts Center through this Saturday, April 19.  Tickets are available through the Empire Arts website or at the door, but seating in the black box is limited, so we recommend getting tickets in advance.  Thanks again to Jocasta for providing her perspective and to Stage Mama for allowing us to repost this review!


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