Crumpled, greasy pieces of paper and plastic littered the Riverside Theatre stage during a special preview last Thursday, April 4, at 7:30 PM. A table holding salt and pepper shakers stood beside an overturned chair while a piano version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” played throughout the theatre. Riverside’s most recent production, Blackbird, opened on Friday, April 5 and runs through Sunday, April 21.
Scottish playwright David Harrower’s show won an Olivier Award, the British equivalent of a Tony Award, in 2007. Blackbird concerns Una, a twelve-year-old girl, who had a relationship with Ray, a forty-year-old man. Fifteen years have passed since their relationship ended. Una, who is now twenty-seven, confronts Ray, now in his fifties. Their meeting spirals from awkward to shocking to emotional.
Riverside’s production stars Fannie Hungerford, a South Carolina native, as Una and Stephen Spencer, a guest actor from Chicago and a member of Actors’ Equity Association, as Ray. It is directed by Iowa City native Meg Eginton. The show has been produced all over the world, yet it was put up at Riverside in a mere eighteen days.
Although it was challenging to put it up in such a short amount of time, Eginton believes that it was worth it. Blackbird deals with the many cases of inappropriate sexual conduct in the world today, but it delves much deeper. “While the story of the play is more extreme than that, it also speaks to the need for parents and friends to be watchful, and, if something happens, to be caring and to treat these negative and sometimes soul wrenching events with serious detail, because otherwise, the scars will last forever,” Eginton stated.
When Una meets Ray after fifteen years of silence, many secrets come to the surface. Both characters know their own side of the story, but they are not aware of each other’s final experiences regarding the relationship. Una is intent on speaking with Ray even though the events of her past traumatized her for the rest of her life. “She lies somewhere on the spectrum between victim and survivor, but is definitely more survivor than victim,” said actress Fannie Hungerford. “She wants to move on, but still gets stuck. …And this trip to see/find Ray is all about resolution – getting to the bottom of the deep mystery of her life.”
Blackbird was influenced and inspired by Harrower’s reading of a similar event in a newspaper article. But the story is much more powerful than a series of facts. As director Meg Eginton stated, “This is a story that encompasses both love and hate. This is not a story of confrontation, though there are some confrontations. It’s a story of discovery and events that takes place within ninety real time minutes of conversation, argument, and lust.”
Though it was originally produced at the Edinburgh Festival, Eginton noted that Riverside Theatre is an ideal place for the show. “Riverside provides a home for professional actors and collaborators. Having professionals onstage and backstage means a more consistent production, and that translates into a more enjoyable experience for the audience,” she said. While she grew up in Iowa City, this is her first experience working with Riverside. “I’m very grateful to Jody Hovland and Ron Clark for the opportunity to direct at home,” Eginton said.
Hungerford agrees. “I am happy to be working at Riverside,” she stated. “I’ve been in Iowa City for a little over three years now and I’ve been mostly focused on teaching yoga and parenting. However, my blood is in the theatre, so it feels right to finally delve more into our theatre community here.”
Blackbird runs from Friday, April 5 through Sunday, April 21. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances are at 7:30 PM and Sunday performances are at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $28.00 for adults, $25.00 for seniors, and $25.00 for those under thirty years old. Student rush tickets are also available for $15.00 twenty minutes prior to show time. Tickets can be purchased in person at Riverside or by calling the box office at 319-338-7672.