nytheatre.com review by Anthony Pennino
May 22, 2008
At the top of Act II in Ian Rowlands's play Blink, now performing as one of the selections at the fifth annual Brits Off Broadway Festival, Si (Sion Pritchard) confesses to his girlfriend Kay (Rhian Blythe) how he was sexually abused by his drama teacher some seven years before. The monologue is particularly moving. In this raw moment, the young man reveals all of his pain, fear, self-loathing, and sense of betrayal. Here, the play focuses on a point when a young actor—doing exercises from Equus and the play Spring Awakening—suddenly finds that he has crossed, against his will, the line between being artistically daring and being sexually manipulated. Rowlands, in this monologue, demonstrates that he is a playwright capable of creating moments of great theatre: emotional, poetic, dangerous.
Alas, the rest of Blink does not live up to the promise of the opening of Act II.
The set for Blink is a giant expressionistic hospital bed that the three actors climb upon as if it were a jungle gym. Lying on the bed—though never seen—is Si's father, Brian, who has suffered a debilitating stroke and, among other problems, can no longer speak. In Act I, the audience is told of a dizzying array of events, most of which happened between the time Si was abused by his teacher and fled Balham, Wales, and his return from London seven years later upon learning of his father's stroke. Si, a character cut from the Jimmy Porter cloth, is from working class roots and has some difficulty communicating with his family, including his Mam. Mam is played by Lisa Palfrey, a terrific actress who has to deliver seemingly countless monologues all of which are variations on the theme of how terrible her marriage has been. Whatever power could be derived from these repetitive soliloquies is lost due to the fact that she has no scene partner to deliver them to. Brian's reactions, his negligence as a husband, his contempt for Si can only be reported to us.
This gets to the heart of the problem of the piece—too much is told to the audience and far too little is shown. The play seems to want to fill a larger canvas, and yet it is constricted by only providing us with three characters. We do not ultimately care about Si and Mam's relationships with Brian because Brian is never brought to life for us. Kay seems to be an almost tangential character to the dramatic arc of the play. Other key characters—such as the drama teacher and Kay's brother, whose actions may have led to Brian's seizure—are also not seen or heard from. The child abuse plot seems to be a dramatic dead end because the drama teacher—again, we are told—commits suicide halfway through Act II. Suddenly, Si, who fled to London for seven years to avoid facing the abuse, feels cheated that he didn't have his day in court. I am not saying characters cannot have contradictions. A character with various shades of grey makes for great theatre; Hamlet believes the Ghost of his father but still has the play performed to prove Claudius's guilt. But Rowlands does nothing to help bridge these contradictions. In the end, the characters are playing at emotions rather than living emotions.
I won't give away the ending of the play, but there is a piece of information given and a drastic action taken. Again, both feel like they are there for the effect rather than having grown organically from the drama that has just occurred. Stephen Fisher's direction is fine in the quieter more naturalistic moments but is given to heavy-handedness in the (many) expository scenes.
Rowlands has some gifts, as the opening of Act II shows. However, with its exposition-heavy first act and a melodrama-heavy second act, Blink is not a compelling evening of theatre.