I’ve always admired Michelle Williams as an actress and I’m very proud to say she’s totally outdone herself in the semi-tragic role of Una, the heroine(?) er, well, the female protagonist in the red-hot Broadway revival of “Blackbird.” It’s a play I saw many years ago with an actress, who I also admired in it, Allison Pill, playing opposite Jeff Daniels. Who I am happy to say matches Williams heart-beat for heart-beat, scream for scream in this play that is more truly shocking than a horror movie.
I received an email from the production saying Please to not reveal anything about the character of Una. So at once I am here to praise Williams, but not to describe her, well, her situation, any way. She did seem like a character out of a Greek myth, I can say that much. An avenging fury.
She’s wearing, and I can describe that, flimsy, little-girl-lost very short white dress that is preposterously, concerning her history, covered in a cherry print. Designer Ann Roth is particularly apt in the choosing of Una’s fabric. It’s almost see-through, but it isn’t. It’s so skimpy, it’s barely there, and it seems to be the middle of winter, because her coat is a maroon puffed one. Bulky but light, it lays on the conference room table like a bloodied dead animal that is still bleeding.
Una has to be a put-upon waif, and a Lolita-like come-on all at the same time and she has to seem to be dangerous as hell. Wobbling on spiky black high heels, she seems like a little girl dressed in her mother’s shoes, and that louche dress like something one would wear at a garden party at the height of summer. Or a picnic, which is a scene both characters keep referencing in their shared pasts.
Jeff Daniels has NEVER been better and he, too, is at the top of his game here, and far better than he was when I first saw it at MTC small downstairs theater in 2008. I liked it. I thought it was good. But why revive this flimsy piece that I thought was as thin and ineffectual as Una’s dress shirt. Except that it’s not. It’s grown in power and substance and maybe it’s Michelle Williams powerful, sensation performance that has turned the trick, as it were.
It’s a GREAT piece of riveting theater now. With the same director, the great Joe Mantello, and the same set designer Scott Pask. The audience is so gripped by the deadly pas-de-deux of Williams and Daniels that for much of the barely there 80 mins. of running time, you could hear a pin drop. The crowd seemed to barely breathing as these two held them in its’ frightening grasp and SQUEEZED them to death. I love theater that rivets you like this. On the edge of my seat, was where I found myself sitting and you will, too, when you see “Blackbird” at the Belasco. It’s a limited run, so you must get tickets as soon as possible.
And I’m pained to report that a film version has already been made and due for release at Cannes WITHOUT either, Michelle Williams or Jeff Daniels. It’s Rooney Mara as “Una” the name now of the film, and I can only hope that she doesn’t make a mess of it as she did this year’s zero-Oscar film “Carol.”
If Michelle Williams were in it, she’d win an Oscar, as it is she seems on her way to winning a Tony for Best Lead Actress in a Play. Or certainly a nomination.