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"Blackbird" at the Belasco

Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe)

Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe)

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There’s a much anticipated play at the Belasco Theatre called Blackbird by David Harrower, and one way to describe it is “harrowing.” In fact, it’s hard to imagine it being “harrowinger.” It depicts the confrontation between a woman named Una and the much older man who seduced her 15 years before, when she was 12.

Much to his consternation, she’s shown up unannounced at his workplace. He pulls her into a sterile break room, strewn with wrappers, empty bottles, and plastic containers and, literally shaking, demands to know why she’s come.  Why indeed? Why would someone want to revisit such a painful moment? It’s like picking a scab that won’t heal. And why would a theatergoer want to sit through it?

The main reason would be the remarkable, visceral performances by Michelle Williams as Una and Jeff Daniels as Peter (formerly known as Ray), the older man, now in his mid-50s. Michelle is waiflike, consumed with taunting anger. Jeff is fleshy, hunched, and grimacing. Harrower raises provocative issues about guilt and responsibility, and director Joe Mantello keeps the actors moving in the cramped space, as they circle each other, fencing about what took place and how they’ve suffered since.

Surrounded by the trash in the break room, they are both damaged, unable to escape the debris of their lives. In the end, he is desperate to hold on to the possibility of a new life, while she, unable to get any resolution, reverts to a sobbing 12 year old.

“Does anyone care about you at all?” Peter asks at one point. Whether you care about them as characters may determine how much you like this play. It’s not one you “enjoy,” but it’s a taut 80-minute experience you may not soon forget.