Dark and disturbing as it is, Blackbird is also, as the title might gently
suggest, an unusual, quirky love story that challenges the usual definition
of the genre.
Two of society's forgotten folk, Baylis and Froggy occupy a
rundown New York room. Each are dependent upon the other for consolation and
care, each immersed in their own private hell. Baylis is a Gulf War veteran
in constant pain and quick to sneer at the world's injustice; Froggy, his
young girlfriend, has a spiralling heroin addiction. Lisa Lilleywhite's
evocative set vividly conjures the dilapidated, dispiriting conditions in
which these lovers survive, one fuelled by booze, the other by drugs.
Yet bleak as this all sounds, the beauty of Adam Rapp's excellent and often
darkly humorous script lies not only in his keen characterisation, which is
masterly, but in the wealth of small details that invest a potentially
depressing tale with a poetic, indeed haunting quality that is rarely
As the play begins, it initially seems as if we've been transported back to
the world of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. This couple
bicker and banter, their mutual insults delivered with real invective. Yet
suddenly a bittersweet quality emerges, and you realise that, beneath the raw
surface, hides real affection and mutual dependency. It is in the surprisingly
tender touches of this unlikely relationship that the play's strength lies.
It might sound mawkish in bold outline, but when Baylis strums an imaginary
guitar and sings to a sick Froggy, there's a wistful, lyrical quality present
that contrasts sharply with the unremitting gloom of their environment; for a
brief moment, ever-encroaching reality is transcended and love poignantly
Rapp is fortunate indeed to have secured two first-class performers in the
shape of Elizabeth Reaser and Paul Sparks who lend this relationship
complete credibility, investing their characters with a humanity that is
deeply affecting. The Bush's own Mike Bradwell directs superbly, too.
If you can divest all prior preconceptions of what constitutes a love affair, there's a true dramatic treat in store for you here.