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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

There's an experience you can only have in an intimate theater. I'm not talking small theater, say 99 seats. I'm talking intimate - like half that size. When a theater's that tiny there's an energy that's possible that is absolutely exhilarating...and at times horribly uncomfortable. If the play is great, you're a part of it; if it's terrible, you're trapped because everyone in the place will know you're walking out.

Rogue Machine's production of Blackbird is artfully compressed into one of these intimate spaces. The set is a dingy break room that's realized with meticulous detail. There's the drop ceiling, the orange plastic chairs reminiscent of a high school cafeteria, the scummy linoleum floors. Scattered on the floor and tables are empty food containers and crumpled Starbucks cups. It's a room that tells you as much about the dingy lives of the employees as their hideous lack of hygiene.

In the play's opening moment, an older man and a young woman are thrust into this corner hideout. The energy between them is electric, palpable -- like the taut bodies of two animals thrust unwillingly into the same cage. You aren't sure exactly what past they share but it's clear there is one. After 15 years apart, Una has surprised Ray at work and he's whisked her into the break room, away from the watchful eyes of his lurking coworkers. Which makes sense when you learn that the last time they saw each other Una was 12 years old. The engine of the play is the discovery of what exactly their history, their connection really is.

Blackbird was inspired by true story of a 32-year-old ex-marine who ran off with a 12-year-old girl he met in an Internet chat room. Scottish playwright David Harrower creates his own fictional couple and a poetry of the unspoken: sentences trail off before the vulnerable heart is revealed; words like "abuse" get stuck in the throat.

Actors Sam Anderson and Corryn Cummins embody the raw, unspeakable emotions with a frightening commitment. Mr. Anderson's puffy, irritated eyes and half clenched fists portray a tender balance of anger and helplessness. Ms. Cummins mixes a disturbing childlike innocence with a steely resolve as she scrambles to sort out what the truth really is.

There is a perverse thrill to watching the production. Not the salacious sexual taboo but the contradictory pleasure of watching two actors embody deeply pained characters so completely with such virtuosity. You feel sickened by the story but feel lucky to be this close to it. For a brisk hour and twenty minutes the tension between the two actors never drops and it's exhilarating.

The gift of LA theater, of this kind of small theater that seems to be tucked away in every nook and cranny of the city, is seeing two wonderful actors spar like prize fighters with the words of a great play. Don't miss this one.

Blackbird plays at Theatre/Theater on Pico Boulevard through September 12.

For info on the show text the word "curtain" to 69866 and join the conversation at KCRW.com/theater.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes


Banner image: Corryn Cummins and Sam Anderson in Rogue Machine's Blackbird. Photo by John Flynn

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