Saturday, April 30, 2016

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Blackbird

This afternoon, I say David Harrower's play Blackbird at the Belasco Theatre. Harrower wrote the piece more than a decade ago, but it has been done all over the place, and for obvious reasons: small cast, simple set, provocative subject matter.

The play follows Ray (played by Jeff Daniels) and Una (played by Michelle Williams), who meet in an office. Fifteen years earlier, the two had a sexual affair. At the time, she was twelve.


But why is the play called Blackbird? Is it the bird-like calls Una made for Ray some fifteen years ago? Or the fact that the play keeps changing its perspective, looking at the same situation from different angles, similar to the Wallace Stevens poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"?

In the spirit of Wallace Stevens, I offer the following reflection:

               Among twenty audience members,
               The only thing they agreed upon
               Was that the title of the play was Blackbird.

               I was of three minds,
               Like three cats
               That had just eaten three blackbirds.

               The blackbird whirled in the sea of trash.
               It was a small part of the tragedy.

               A man and a woman
               Are one.
               A man and a woman and a blackbird,
               Now that's just sick.

               I do not know which to prefer,
               The beauty of Una's monologue
               Or the beauty of her innuendoes,
               The blackbird calling
               Or just after.

               Figures walked past the long windows,
               Appearing in sheets of glass.
               The shadows of the coworkers
               Crossed it, to and fro.
               The blackbird
               Traced in the shadow
               An indecipherable play.

               O thin men of Scotland,
               Why do you imagine golden birds?
               Do you not see how the blackbird
               Walks around the table
               In the company break room?

               I heard noble accents
               And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
               But I heard, too,
               That a blackbird might have been involved
               In what I heard.

               When the blackbird flew out of sight,
               It marked the edge
               Of the set turning in circles.

               At the sight of blackbirds
               Flying in florescent light,
               Even the bawds of cacophony
               Would cry out in surprise.

               He drove across some unnamed state
               In an easily identifiable car.
               Once, a fear pierced him,
               In that he mistook
               The shadow of his automobile
               For blackbirds.

               The audience is gasping.
               The blackbird must be flying.

               It was evening all afternoon.
               It was raining
               And it was going to rain.
               The blackbird sat
               In the balcony.