Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams Star in David Harrower Play
Blackbird, currently running at the Belasco Theatre, is a 2005 play by David Harrower. The play has been performed all over the world, and received the Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2007. The American premiere took place in 2007, simultaneously at an Off-Broadway production by the Manhattan Theatre Club, and also at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. That Off-Broadway production was directed by Joe Mantello, who is also behind the current Broadway premiere, and it also starred Jeff Daniels who is reprising his role. The play is a two-hander about a young woman who had sexual relations with an older man as a child, and fifteen years later confronts him about the affair. The show is fraught with tension and moral ambiguity, as this young woman actually had true complicated feelings for her assaulter. It raises questions about statutory rape and sexual dynamics between older and younger people, and presents the opportunity for two powerful performances. In this production, the role of Una is played by Michelle Williams (Cabaret, “Dawson’s Creek”), and the role of Ray is played by Jeff Daniels (God of Carnage, “The Newsroom,” Dumb and Dumber).
While The New York Times is generally considered the most influential theatre critic, in this case they were the minority opinion. Ben Brantley from The New York Times was lukewarm in his response to Blackbird, declaring that the work itself is immensely powerful but that this production only occasionally reaches its full potential. He called the production “fitful” and compared to acting to an earthquake “seismometer,” calling the satisfaction level of watching the performances “low.” However, other critics were more enraptured. David Cote from Time Out New York cites his own expertise with the play, having covered its Off-Broadway production less than a decade ago, and also written about it on other occasions. Nevertheless, he was moved by Daniels’ and Williams’ performances, calling the production a reckoning of arrested time and soiled innocence. Jeremy Gerard of Deadline was also blown away by the show, calling the rapture “murderous” and the performances “devastating.” David Rooney from The Hollywood Reporter remarked that since his debut in the role of Ray, Jeff Daniels has found even more gravitas for the performance, amplifying the production’s emotional power. Jesse Green of Vulture compliments the production by calling it “terrifying,” and deeming the production “theater at its best.”
Box Office Still Middling Despite Positive Reviews
Like many new plays this season, despite their star power, Blackbird has not yet performed very well at the box office. Although many of the reviews were very positive, the show is bringing in less than half of its gross potential each week. In the last reported week of box office figures, the week ending March 13, 2016, Blackbird brought in $411,984, which represents 46.55% of its gross potential. With a top ticket price of $248.00, the average paid admission was $63.20, and the audience was filled up to an average of 80.4%. With Scott Rudin as lead producer, the production is still not faring very well despite his most strategic advertising and marketing maneuvers. It is possible that the play is not a very interesting title to theatregoers, or it is possible that ticket sales will pick up as the weather warms. In any case, Blackbird is running at the Belasco Theatre until June 12, 2016 with two excellent performances and a starkly powerful production.