Re-setting the bar

Rogue Theatre’s Blackbird is a two-player tour de force

The Rogue Theatre company’s biggest strength in this reviewer’s estimation is its commitment to setting high standards. Rogue arguably chooses some of the most daring and challenging works to stage, and follows through with the commitments made in its mission statement of trying to create “theater of exceptional quality and imagination.”

Engaging an audience with a stark, emotionally exhausting, 80-minute conversation between two characters is setting the bar at a daunting level. Yet it was a challenge that, on this night, Rogue emphatically met. The company’s opening-night performance of Scottish playwright David Harrower’s psychological drama was an intensely satisfying night of theater.

The Rogue’s own promotional materials spell out the premise, but I am going to try to avoid laying the story out here. What’s important is that headliners Rob Wilson and Delovely Delisa play two people who share a troubled past who meet up 15 years after the fact in a messy break room that is emblematic of what’s been made of each of their lives.

From the opening notes of the awkward reunion, when exactly what had taken place between the two is first painfully drawn out, both actors are on pitch. The interplay that develops as untold stories and buried pains are brought to the surface is alternately dissonant and harmonious in what becomes for the audience a peep-show into a confrontational therapy session between two people still damaged by events a decade and a half old.

As the lights came up, one member of the audience let out a weary “whew,” and that about sums it up. These two committed actors and director Joe Hilsee have created a rigorous mood piece that is about as fulfilling a theater experience as one can have in Chico.