The backstory: David Harrower's Blackbird starts out with a man and a woman having a prolonged and unpleasant conversation for about half of the play as they dance around a secret. Once that secret is out, the play builds in intensity.
You should know: (Spoiler alert) The secret is question is that years ago, when the woman was a child, the man, already middle-aged, had sexually abused her. We're witnessing their first meeting since then. And while Harrower's writing is masterful, Blackbird is still a difficult play to pull off. It's very talky, and until its last moments little actually happens onstage; the "action" all merely recalled.
How's the production: Credit director Karla Hartley and actors Caitlin Eason and Paul Potenza for making the current Jobsite Theater staging of Blackbird successful. The actors both have stunning moments, especially in extended monologues in which they reveal some unsettling truths about their pasts. But they keep their emotions admirably restrained for most of the play, until their passions burst forth at the end.
Last word: Aside from the power of Harrower's naturalistic dialogue and the depth of the two performances, what's most impressive about Blackbird is its moral ambiguity. Pedophilia, perhaps more than any other subject, would seem to demand absolute judgment. Blackbird offers a host of uncomfortable questions, and ends intriguingly without answering any. So its power endures, and even grows, after you've left the theater and started to think about it.
See it yourself: Running through Sept. 28 at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center's Shimberg Playhouse. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday. $24.50 plus service charge. (813) 229-7827 or tbpac.org.