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A woman confronts her predator years later in Dark & Stormy's 'Blackbird'

Rick Spaulding

Rick Spaulding

See a few shows by Dark & Stormy Productions, and you may start to feel like you’re following an anthology where artistic director Sara Marsh is the lone recurring actor. In a weathered room somewhere, sometime, she faces one or more co-stars in an elliptical but explosive confrontation where violence—always emotional, sometimes physical—constantly threatens.

Blackbird

Grain Belt Warehouse
$15-$39

Blackbird fits that model, but delves into territory that’s painful even by the company’s own bracing standards. David Harrower’s 2005 play centers on an adult woman named Una (Marsh) who surprises a much older man, Ray (Luverne Seifert), at his industrial workplace one evening. She wants to have a private conversation, one he’s anxious to avoid. We soon learn why. “How many other 12-year-olds have you had sex with?” she asks. Only her, he swears.

Michaela Johnson directs this production, with Seifert and Marsh circling one another in Dark & Stormy’s Grain Belt Studio space. It’s littered with so much discarded paper and food packaging that the characters can’t help stepping on it as they walk; the explanation is that they’re in an unkempt break room, but the detritus also serves to represent the way these characters can’t escape the crime that’s shaped both their lives for a decade and a half.

Hers more than his, it seems, which is a central point of the play. This male abuser, like others we might know of, has done penance (in this case, prison time), and now he wants to move on. To some extent, Ray’s been able to do that: He has a job, a new identity, a partner. Una’s reasons for pursuing him now are complex, but first and foremost she wants to tell her side of the story, and to disrupt whatever narrative Ray’s been telling himself.

While the characters in Blackbird were loosely inspired by an actual case involving a former U.S. Marine and a young British girl, it’s beside the point whether the play’s events resemble any actual meeting between a child abuser and the adult his victim has grown into. Harrower wants to indict not just the act of exploitation, but the human ability to exercise empathy selectively.

Seifert plays Ray as a man who’s trying to fade into the background, but who can’t hide the resentment and calculation churning inside his head. Crucially, Seifert conveys the sense that Ray doesn’t think he got a fair deal. Ray’s admitted his actions, but he doesn’t think he should be stigmatized as a pedophile: He’s studied the subject in detail, just so he can explain why he’s not one of those people.

Marsh is never less than commanding, although in this case that may be too much of a good thing: She hits her halting lines with such stride that she can sound staccato rather than searching. Once again, though, Marsh and her company draw their audience into a whirlwind of emotions that will leave you spinning long after the show ends.

Blackbird
Grain Belt Warehouse
77 13th Ave. NE, Minneapolis
612-401-4506; through January 5