This season, David Harrower's "Blackbird" returns to The Living Room. It's a play exploring an unsettling relationship and its aftermath.
Associate Artistic Director Bryan Moses, who also directed the production for the opening season in 2011, says, "It challenges audience members’ thoughts on a usually cut-and-dry subject. Also, it is written in free verse poetry that helps it sound incredibly natural."
The Living Room's intimate black box theatre provides a voyeuristic perspective for audiences, as the play unfolds in a seedy, workplace break room. In this scene, Ray (Scott Cordes) is surprised by the visit of Una (Vanessa Severo), a young woman from his past. At first, it's unclear why Una has tracked Ray down, but he slowly discovers the reason for her visit.
The two had a sexual relationship many years ago, but it was an illicit one: Una was 12 and Ray was 40. As a result, Ray served time in prison. Since then, he's changed his name and rebuilt his life. But now Una confronts him about the past.
ACTORS VANESSA SEVERO AND SCOTT CORDES: ON "BLACKBIRD"
Describe your character in a sentence or two.
Vanessa: Una is a woman shaped by a single event in her life, which has resulted in her living an adult life cheated of its childhood. Una is a character who pendulums abruptly from child to adult in a mere sentence.
Scott: Ray is living a new life that he fought for because he lost everything.
What do you most identify with about your character?
V: We can all remember the first time we fell in love, and how it was all-encompassing and it changed us forever. I can identify with Una being in love for the first time and giving into it and all its many repercussions.
S: Not much. He does love her, I can identify with that. But the way he loves this girl is in no way a love I can relate to. But I love playing characters that I don't identify with. I always have.
You've performed these roles before and together (in the 2011 production at The Living Room). Any hesitation about diving back into this material?
V: None. The play is perfect and devastating. Scott Cordes is a marvel to work with. I leaped at the opportunity to remount it.
S: Not at all. I enjoyed the first process immensely. Working with Bryan (director Bryan Moses), Vanessa, and Regina (stage manager Regina Weller) was exactly what you want the creative process to be. And the unique setting that The Living Room has given us also added to the actors’ and audience’s experience. Plus, it’s a great play.
Did anything change about how you approached your character this time?
V: I began studying the script sooner than last time. I'm a new mom and my approach to the material shifted. I'm much more protective of Una this time around.
S: I started working on the script earlier and still had some memory of the script, so I was more confident with the dialogue much earlier in the process. There are moments where Ray does get to assert himself and I found I was more likely to be forceful; some of those (moments) work better to tell the story – and some of them I have to work against.
Vanessa, in the play, Una has a long monologue where she describes the last day she and Ray saw each other and the aftermath. How do you prepare for that?
V: You learn it. Trust it. And then, just say the words. Every character is me, in extraordinary circumstances.
The dialogue in ''Blackbird" overlaps, like conversations do in real life. Are there challenges in getting the timing right?
V: The only way to get the timing right is repetition, a lot of repetition. Once we have it, it becomes a lively little verbal dance Scott and I do.
S: Yes, there is. You not only have to memorize the words, you really have to memorize the punctuation - it makes a huge difference. It is almost a painful process to get right, but once it is – you can feel it.
"Blackbird" runs through February 3, 2013, at The Living Room Theatre, 1818 McGee, Kansas City, Mo. Performances take place Thursday - Sunday.