I woke with a start from hollow booms that hung in the air, resonating through the early morning fog. Gunshots? I thought. Fear, panic, and confusion gripped me, paralyzed me. Finally, after discerning that the noise wasn’t something to worry over, or at least lulling myself into the belief that I was safe, I fell back into a peaceful slumber. After a few REM cycles, I ruminated over the simplicity of scenery in my bedroom drama. A dark scene, a few off stage noises, and a room- a statement upon performance art’s conveyance of experience, message, and complexity in emotion through very basic means.
So, too, was the hour- and fifteen-minute delight of “Blackbird,” a play by Pulitzer Prize nominee, Adam Rapp, presented by Vs. Theatre Company in Hollywood’s Elephant Theatre Lab. The play is a balancing act of paradox, duality, and irony. The use of both a stark set and exposition make for an effective approach to classical tragedy. In an era of technological feats in stage production, “Blackbird” reminds us quiet grandeur can lie in the simplistic and traditional.
The play concerns Froggy, an ex-stripper and heroin addict, and her older roommate and lover, Baylis, a recovered drug addict and disabled war veteran. Froggy is a child. Her intentional ignorance and overt sexuality have led her to abuse, a back alley abortion and Hepatitis C. However, her quirks, vocal inflections, misplaced trust, and enthusiasm, expertly marionetted by Jade Dornfeld, make her a forgivable, even likeable, character.
Froggy, bouncing around the squalor of the couple’s one-bedroom home wearing layers of clothing and pulling out lunchboxes filled with candy, is the epitome of a preschooler dancing about her nursery. Her counterpart, played by Johnny Clark, is a tormented, impotent, and off-putting parental figure. Quick-tempered and easily downtrodden, he degrades the innocence of Froggy’s play area with empty bottles of Jack Daniel’s and cigarettes.
Froggy and Baylis are about as happy and inviting a couple as Edward Albee’s George and Martha. Their comfort in living in the gutter, inability to communicate, fascination with each other, and failure to succeed are matched by the haphazardness of their love nest. Clothes are strewn chaotically, the holes in walls are used as storage cubicles, a cooler serves as a makeshift refrigerator; and the room is filthy.
“Blackbird” is a raw and emotional exploration of love’s endurance under its most trying of circumstances and certainly in the bleakest of environments. Its destitute set design by Danny Cistone, costumes by Gelareh Khalioun and Erin Mueller, and soundtrack by Director Ron Klier, mirror a world as complex and disordered as our own- proof enough that the traditional medium of production design is effective in an age of theatrical bells and whistles. If the raven quoth “nevermore,” we hope Rapp’s “Blackbird” booms an optimistic “possibly” into the hearts of an ever- sleeping audience.