‘Blackbird’ at The Barrelhouse Theatre by David Friscic

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The insistent presence of a blackbird tapping against a window hovers above the two characters trapped in their own mutual hells in Adam Rapp’s intense and stimulating play Blackbird. Under the astute directorial control of Director Gabriel Swee, the play delivers a high-voltage mix of anger, remorse and raw emotion laced with biting, black humor that is reminiscent of the best of experimental theatre one would see Off-Broadway. This highly-charged play runs straight through with no intermission and hurls its two characters into a psychological vortex of addiction and need that offers very little hope of redemption or peace. This play packs a visceral jolt and is not for the faint-hearted.

The intimate space of The Barrelhouse Theatre/DC Arts Center enhances the claustrophobic feeling of the emotionally fraught lives of two people who are fighting for survival in a dingy New York apartment on Canal Street during Christmas Eve. The interplay that takes place between an embittered, disabled Gulf War Veteran and his precocious heroin -addicted girlfriend is beautifully etched by Tony Bullock as Baylis and Julie Roundtree as Froggy. Bullock’s character is the more restrained and contolled of the two and is a perfect counterpoint to the openess and fluidity of Roundtree’s portrayal of Froggy. Alternating between puppy-like codependence and impudent sassiness, Roundtree movingly portrays a vulnerable soul with remarkable sensitivity.

The lighting and sound design by Chris Griffin is superb; the utilization of interspersed Christmas music seems to mock the very real torments of these two characters. The garbage strewn and messy set by Gabriel Swee aptly conveys the messiness of the characters’ lives.

'Messin' with Baylis.' Julie Roundtree (Froggy) and Tony Bullock (Baylis) in The Barrelhouse Theatre production of 'Blackbird' by Adam Rapp. Photo by Gabriel Swee.

The text of the play by Adam Rapp is often audacious and thought-provoking but, sometimes, borders on constant variations on the same theme. Luckily, the provocative and engaging staging of Director Gabriel Swee forcefully wends its way around any pretentious patches in the text. This is the directorial debut of Swee in the D. C. area and it is clear that he has an original and exciting voice. This production is a ‘Must See’ for anyone interested in psychological theatre.

Featured Picture: “I wanna dance!” Julie Roundtree as Froggy and Tony Bullock as Baylis in The Barrelhouse Theatre production of ‘Blackbird’ by Adam Rapp. Photo by Gabriel Swee.

Blackbird plays on March 2, 3, 4, 9, 10,11, 16,17, and 18th at 7:30 PM and March 11 at 3:00 PM at The Barrelhouse Theatre at the District of Columbia Arts Center -2438 18th Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 462-7833, or purchase them online.

 

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David Friscic
David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college to making numerous treks to New York City to indulge his interest in live theatre. An enthusiastic interest in writing has shown itself in a BA in English/Education and an MA in English Literature. Taken together, these two interests have culminated in the logical conclusion of writing for an arts blog. David moved up and down the East Coast due to his father's job at General Electric and this has helped him to perceive the world in a very open way. After his schooling, David taught in Catholic school systems for awhile and, then, spent three years in the seminary with two years at Catholic University studying Theology and one year in a practicuum working at a church in New York State. David currently works at the National Science Foundation as a Technical Information Specialist for the Office of Polar Programs and has had the great opportunity to go to Antarctica twice and Greenland once in support of the research community. He enjoys living in Bethesda and has taken courses at the Writer's Center. David enjoys swimming, traveling, reading, and working on committees at his condo. His major interest, however, is the arts and all it encompasses---from symphony, to film, to museum treks to live theatre. He counts having lunch with Lillian Gish and meeting Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Liza Minnelli and Sandy Dennis as some of the more exciting encounters of his life.