All Words and Photos: Rachel Eisley
A far cry from happy-go-lucky, Blackbird, presented by Barrelhouse Theater at the DCAC until March 18, alternatively gives the audience a one-two punch in the liver.
Taking place in a slovenly Canal street apartment, we are invited into the interior realities of two drug abusers who are attempting to get by. Froggy, played by Julia Roundtree, is a young woman escaping abuse at home by running to the Big Apple in pursuit of self-sufficiency by way of stripping. Baylis, played by Tony Bullock, is an Gulf war vet who injured his back during a moving job after he came back from the service, now unable to work and doesn’t have health insurance to remedy his serious health problems.
Froggy bounces between embodying a survivor with zeal for her own strength and hope for the future, and a scared little girl who never really grew up, and now can’t separate being taken care of with being controlled. The play follows them bantering with each other in the squalid apartment, trying to assert their own opinions and views on a variety of topics, each eventually deferring to one another unexpectedly, revealing surprising power dynamics in their complexly dysfunctional relationship. Blackbird is a brave production that immediately engrosses the viewer into a sort of hopeless reality very far from comfortable/employed middle-class existence. The play’s harshness and grit is hard to swallow in many instances, with subject matter and language for (at least) the 18+ crowd. Wrangling a tough production with style and grace, Roundtree and Bullock transform into their tragic characters, and despite their repulsiveness, still manage to invoke pity for their deep misfortune. In this tough economy, it’s oddly refreshing to watch a tragedy which compels one to stay thankful for running water, lack of crippling drug addiction and/or terminal illnesses.
Contact director Gabriel Swee for more information at [email protected]