Arts & Culture

Harlequin goes out on a limb to present rarely produced ‘Blackbird’

Actors Frank Lawler and Colleen Litchfield perform a scene from David Harrower’s “Blackbird,” running Aug. 22 through Sept. 14 at Harlequin Productions in Olympia.
Actors Frank Lawler and Colleen Litchfield perform a scene from David Harrower’s “Blackbird,” running Aug. 22 through Sept. 14 at Harlequin Productions in Olympia. Courtesy of Harlequin Productions

David Harrower’s play “Blackbird,” in its opening weekend at Harlequin Productions, was nominated for multiple Tony Awards, won the Laurence Olivier Award for best new play, and collected glowing reviews from critics.

The 2007 Off-Broadway production “promises to be the most powerful of the season,” The New York Times’ Ben Brantley wrote at the time. “’Blackbird’ is theater at its most elemental: one man, one woman, one set and a head-to-head confrontation, about events long past, that occurs in real time.”

Why, then, has the show been so rarely produced since its 2016 Broadway run?

Because what Ray (Frank Lawler of Seattle, who last appeared at Harlequin in 2013’s “Henry V”) and Una (Colleen Litchfield of New York City) are dealing with is a relationship they had when he was 40 and she was 12 — ages that make clear just how intense the subject matter is.

Brantley used words like “brutal,” “tragic” and “horrible,” and actor Jeff Daniels, who played Ray both Off-Broadway and in the 2016 Broadway production, summed it up as “a soul-scorcher.”

“Many theater companies are afraid of doing this piece,” said Aaron Lamb, Harlequin’s artistic director. “However, I think the story … is important for us to see and explore as a society and as a community.

“Sexual abuse happens,” he said. “It’s all around us. We should be able to face it and to talk about it.”

Theater opens up that opportunity for conversation, said director Kimberly Loren Eaton of New York City.

“When I saw this on Broadway, I went with a friend, and afterward, she shared some experiences she’d had and I shared some of mine,” she said. “They weren’t necessarily like what was on stage, but it’s not easy to be a woman in the world. Being able to have that dialog is really important.

“It’s a beautiful play, even though it’s hard in some ways,” she added. “It’s really powerful.”

She praised Lamb for making the “brave and bold” choice to produce this show.

“Every choice we make as storytelling artists is a political act,” she said in a press release for “Blackbird.” “Art and advocacy are inseparable.”

Her most recent project was “Terroir,” presented earlier this month at New Perspectives Theater Co.’s Women’s Work Short Play Festival in New York City. The play deals with an abusive chef who runs a restaurant staffed by formerly incarcerated people.

“I do a lot of things that deal with who holds power and how they use that power,” she said. “I think it’s one of the most important things we can be talking about right now.”

‘Blackbird’

  • What: David Harrower’s intense drama finds a man and woman confronting the consequences of the sexual relationship they had 15 years earlier — when she was 12.
  • When: 8 p.m. Aug. 22-24 and 28-31 and Sept. 5-7 and 12-14 and at 2 p.m. Aug. 25 and Sept. 1 and 8
  • Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
  • Tickets: $35, $32 for seniors and military, $20 for students and youth; for the Aug. 28 performance, pay what you can.
  • More information: 360-786-0151, harlequinproductions.org
  • Also: Due to descriptions of sex and sexual assault, the show is recommended for theatergoers 14 and older, with guidance suggested for those under 18.
  • Talkback: The Sept. 1 matinee will be followed by a discussion.
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