Theater Review: William Petersen returns to Chicago to star in Blackbird

Petersen-Wm_173-WWilliam Petersen last performed at Victory Gardens Theater in 1998 and returns to appear in David Harrower’s Blackbird, a gripping work based on the premise of the questions and complications of child abuse. As the founder of Remains Theater Ensemble, he was active in Chicago, later becoming familiar to many as the star of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation on television. He serves as executive producer and was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for his starring role in that series.

Petersen, as Ray, is confronted by Una, played by Mattie Hawkinson, 15 years after a devastating relationship that changed their lives forever. Una, at 12, becomes sexually involved when Ray attends a neighborhood gathering at her home. His kindness to her becomes much more, and throughout the 90-minute intensity of their widely-different memories of the situation, we have very mixed interpretations of the whole affair. Her accusations of abuse are often combined with her protestations of love and anger for his desertion following a sexual encounter.

Ray, having served a prison sentence, has begun a new life and proclaims his success in the world of business, but questions remain. Harrower’s dialogue comes across almost as poetry. Statements and responses of a few words, sometimes only one, take great concentration. Victory Gardens uses a wall next to the stage as a screen for the hearing impaired, so every word is visual as well as oral. At times, it created a distraction.

Petersen and Hawkinson, directed by Artistic Director Dennis Zacek, are beautifully cast. Both characters engender sympathy, and we leave not sure how it all began or where the future lies. At the talk-back following last week’s performance, the audience of mostly seniors saw the story as one of abuse of a child. It did not seem that simple to me.

Harrower’s choice of title, Blackbird, is a British term for

but in the context of this play could have multiple meanings. Opening July 13, it has played to sold-out houses, and tickets are at a premium. We were fortunate to call 15 minutes after six seats became available. For ticket information, call (773) 871-3000, or go online to: There has been an extension, so, like me, you may be in luck.

from the Aug 12-18, 2009 issue

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