Theatre ReviewsTom Williams


by David Harrowerblackbird by David Harrower

Directed by Dennis Zacek

At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater

Riveting drama about a strange reunion features fabulous acting

William Petersen returns from his hit TV show,  CSI Vegas, to his theatre roots at Victory Gardens Theater in David Harrower’s powerful, extremely well written drama-Blackbird. Together with Mattie Hawkinson, Petersen engages us from the start and keeps  us riveted for the entire 85 minutes.

Williaam Petersen & Mattie Hawkinson
Williaam Petersen & Mattie Hawkinson

Using most effectively that stop-start, stuttering and staccato dialogue  in homage to David Mamet, we witness 27 year old Una (Hawkinson) confronting Ray (Petersen) in the garbage-filled workplace lunch room. Through the broken dialogue with strong emphasis on suppressed memories, we learn that Ray molested Una 15 years earlier when she was only 12 years old and he was 40 years old. Ray is a ‘blackbird,’–a British vernacular for ‘jailbird’ since Ray spent 3 years of his 6 years sentence in prison for child molesting Una.

Mattie Hawkinson & William petersen
Mattie Hawkinson & William petersen

This most awkward reunion has both confronting their past as Uma shows up unannounced. Guilt, rage and raw emotions build into a dramatic confrontation as their forbidden relationship is explained, defended and excused. Petersen is quite effective as the almost likable pedophile. Petersen reaches the depths of remorse, confusion and rationalization as he fights his conflicting feels for Una. He is conflicted toward her. Petersen deftly rides Ray’s anguish from surprise to a rekindling of his lust to his escape into reality.

Mattie Hawkinson gives her finest, most controlled emotionally deep performance of her career in Blackbird. She slowly lets her emotions out as she vents her rage toward Ray.  She is in total control here as she plays out her destructive cycle of rage, revenge with a renewed desire for more illicit love. Hawkinson is passionate, ambiguous, and conflicted.

Playwright David presents Ray not as a monster but as an almost sympathetic character who may have only desired a child once. Maybe. Yet he could still be a pedophile? We see how the trauma of a child sexual affair had on Uma making her a promiscuous sex addict. What added to the power of his play, Harrower only presents these possibilities never giving us concrete answers to the events. Was the relationship true love or child molestation? Can a 12 year old seduce a 40 year old man? And how can each come to terms with this life-shattering event? Blackbird is tightly directed by Dennis Zacek, superbly acted by Petersen and Hawkinson, and intelligently written. Blackbird is one of the finest, most devastatingly powerful plays of 2009.  It is nice to see a rich TV star come back to the stage and let it all out on the stage as William Petersen did in Blackbird. It is equally nice to see a star turn from Mattie Hawkinson. Blackbird is simply great theatre–don’t miss it!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-871-3000,, tickets $30-$58, Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridaays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, special Wednesdays at 2 pm–July 29 & Aug 5, running time is 85 minutes, through August 9, 2009

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