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Posted by : Pinoy Screen and Stage Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A messy lunchroom, quite ordinary, serves as the venue for the battle of wills that's about to take place. As soon as the two leads, Una (Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante) and Ray (Bart Guingona) enter the room, the atmosphere of thew room entirely changes. There's a tension so thick that you could actually cut it with a knife had it been a tangible thing. That is the world of David Harrower's play.

The story takes us back to 15 years ago without resorting to any kind of special effects like projections or costume changes. It just hinges on the premise of a woman, confronting a man, whom she loved after all these years but is the same man who society tells her committed sexual abuse, sinc she was only 12 years old when they got together and he was 40 years old. Now, armed with a lot of questions and with no solid plan except wanting to see him, Una drove miles on an impulse to visit him in an office, after having seen Ray's face in a magazine.

The play calls into question how society can pull apart two people and label their relationship as improper just because it tramples on certain conventions. The two had a 28-year difference, while we actually have a number of of local celebrity couples with that age gap or even more, like, as high as a 44-year gap. Because of the technicality that Una was a minor at that time, the color of their relationship changes, Ray was arrested, tried in court, and suffered a five-year sentence for statutory rape. Speculations were made about his upbringing and he was immediately judged as having a perverted nature, for preying on a child. Even though Una did not explicitly say she was abused and instead tried to defend him, her words fell on deaf ears just because of her age.

Mikkie as Una is brimming with defiance and astuteness. She is like a bomb waiting to explode, a perfect picture of the brokenness society has wrought upon her. Ray does not know what to do with her at first and wanted to get rid of her, but she shows that she is a force to be reckoned with, a 28-year-old who is no longer a child and cannot be held back anymore from getting what she wants, whether they be answers or a closure to a forbidden romance.

Bart as Ray makes terrific acting choices as expected, from his thoughts that seem to scatter because of the inconvenient and unexpected situation, to his handling of Una's rage, and eventually, neediness. He makes it clear that his character did not harbor any resentment, but instead, sadness, because he was already able to get back on his feet years ago and wants to keep everything he has worked hard for as is.

Apart from the production design which gives us a space so realistic that as an audience member, I felt as if I was a voyeur watching them through a CCTV. The details like the garbage bin, the locker,  the water dispenser, etc., helped a lot in making the place feel like the usual drab workplace. Topper Fabregas, the director, knows when to have his actors close to one another, be at other ends of the room, or simply keep still. He deftly maneuvers this without the actors looking like they were just told to go to one blocking and another.

Noticeably absent is the shade of indigo from John Batalla's lighting, so it's hard to tell at first glance that he's the lighting designer. However, as lights get adjusted during Una's monologue as if asking the audience to scrutinize her words more  closely, one can't help but flip through the souvenir program to check who is the genius behind this fine detail.

Blackbird staged by The Necessary Theatre reminds us that conventions are sometimes unnecessary and are just made so that people can  feel better about themselves and give them a feeling of power, the power to steer others in the supposedly right direction while looking the other way when the consequences comes back to haunt these "caged individuals" years later.

Photos by Jaypee Maristaza; Captions by Orly Agawin

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