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.
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.