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Sexual assault examined

A harsh and beautifully produced play at Harlequin

Frank Lawler and Colleen Litchfield. Photo credit: Jessica Weaver

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The hard-hitting two-hander Blackbird by David Harrower at Harlequin Productions is emotionally draining and not for everyone.

It begins with shocking fury when Una (Colleen Litchfield), a 27-year-old woman, and Ray (Frank Lawler), a 55-year-old man, storm into a horribly trashed conference room in Ray's business office -- strewn with pizza boxes and trash and fast-food containers. Ray and Una are at each other's throats, and the tension is unrelenting throughout the hour-and-a-half play. The complex reasons for the tension unfold only gradually as they relive their past through accusation and confession. Two decades earlier Ray sexually assaulted Una, and over all this time she has nursed her hatred and he has wrestled with his guilt, both of which explode on stage.

This production of Blackbird as directed by New York-based guest director Kimberly Loren Eaton is an acting tour de force.

Interestingly, in an extensive program director's note, Eaton writes much more than is common about the technical crew: scenic designer Bruce Haasl, lighting designer Christina Barrigan, costumer Jocelyn Fowler, sound designer Gina Salerno and properties designer Rob Taylor, all of whom add immensely to the atmosphere and sense of authenticity of the play. Their behind-the-scenes work grabs the audience by its collective throat and does not let go.

Eaton said her approach to Blackbird was "very much one of a female lens on the piece. I believe that every choice we make as storytelling artists is a political act; that art and advocacy are inseparable ... I'm particularly drawn to stories relevant to major issues in the zeitgeist, which move social and cultural conversations forward, to work which brings marginalized voices into the mainstream, and to women-driven work."

If there is any doubt that Harlequin is a professional theater the equal of any big-city companies, this play should dispel that error. Litchfield has starred in many top New York shows and was a recent Best Leading Actress award winner in the SheNYC Festival. Lawler, a Harlequin veteran, is an Equity actor who has performed at Seattle Public Theatre, Taproot Theatre, Seattle Shakespeare Company and many others. Eaton has extensive directing experience on New York stages, including work with the producing teams of Fun Home (Broadway -- five Tony Awards including Best Play, and National Tour), The Velocity of Autumn (Broadway), and Freud's Last Session (Off-Broadway Alliance Award for Best Play).

Also appearing in a brief but effective scene is 12-year-old Olympia actor Lola May Havens, most recently seen as Small Allison in Fun Home at South Puget Sound Community College.

Blackbird is an Olivier Award winner and was nominated for three 2016 Tony Awards. Although not easy to take, it is theater at its best. Warning: there is frank and graphic discussion of sexual situations. "Mature drama -- includes discussions of sex and sexual assault. Ages 14 and older, younger than 18 with guidance."

BLACKBIRD, 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sept. 14, $35, $32 senior 60+/military, $20 student/youths under 25, $12-$15 rush tickets (half-hour prior to showtime), State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, 360.786.0151,

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