Blackbird is intense. David Harrower's two-hander packs a lot of history and angst into the knock-down, drag out war that makes up the 90-minute play. As some of the marketing materials have said, Ray (Jeff Daniels) and Una (Michelle Williams) had a relationship some 15 years ago. Today, in the plain, fluorescent-lit break room at Ray's office, they'll have their reckoning.
The relationship, as you might guess if you have an idea of the actors' age difference, was an inappropriate one. When Una was 12 and Ray was 40, the two had a three-month long sexual affair, and though Ray already went to trial and served some time for it, Una has arrived (unannounced) to re-litigate the abuse.
It's not fun. It absolutely will make you uncomfortable—how could it not? (Director Joe Mantello (The Humans, The Last Ship) is sensitive and careful not to sensationalize the action.) Yet it's unfortunately relevant today, just as it was when it debuted off-Broadway in 2007, which is part of what makes Ray and Una's encounter as adults all the more fascinating. You see Ray trying to justify what he did, trying to say it wasn't a chronic, pathological problem, and that he really did love Una. Trying to not fall back into a pattern of allowing Ray to manipulate her, Una does not accept his protestations.
Una, played with ferocity play Michelle Williams (Cabaret, Blue Valentine), comes in with swagger. She is determined to show Ray she is tough and that he does not have a hold on her. Ray, too, is trying to show he has grown. Jeff Daniels (Steve Jobs, God of Carnage), like a predator in the wild, steels himself when Una first arrives, talking about how he moved away and changed his name. With laser-sharp focus, Una counters that she didn't change her name, and she couldn't move away when it happened; she has had to live with this every single day. As the play unfolds and the two recount the abuse, the messy fighting continues until they both unravel, effectively leaving Ray and Una where they were 15 years ago. It's sad. It's infuriating. It will leave you shaken.