BWW Review: Suzan-Lori Parks' IN THE BLOOD Makes Greek Tragedy Out Of The Scarlet Letter
While Suzan-Lori Parks' ferocious drama from 2000, FUCKING A, enjoys an excellent new production at Signature Theatre, across the lobby of their multi-stage center, her more sensitive 1999 exploration, Pulitzer finalist IN THE BLOOD, also receives a solid remounting.
Known as The Red Letter Plays, both feature a central character named Hester, inspired by the protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," but while the latter entry is a Brechtian tale of an abortionist, its predecessor takes on the style of Greek tragedy, though, especially in director Sarah Benson's production, reality is raised to near-absurdist proportions.
The heart-tugging Saycon Sengbloh stars in this version as Hester La Negrita, an illiterate, homeless mother of five children ("My treasures!") through five different deadbeat dads.
Set designer Louisa Thompson offers an impressionist representation of the bridge she lives under, and, at the play's opening, the other five cast members (who double as children and adults), act as a Greek chorus to taunt her.
"Shouldn't have it if you can't afford it."
"Just plain stupid, if you ask me."
"She don't got no skills"
It isn't long before the word "slut" is scrawled on the wall of her makeshift residence.
While Hester stays loving, those who should be helping her reveal their true selves though brief scenes and confessional asides.
Frank Wood is the doctor who tries to pressure her into a hysterectomy. Jocelyn Bioh is the welfare agent who wears her social work as a fabulous accessory to her chic ensemble. Ana Reeder is the prostitute who encourages Hester to have more babies and sell them, though she warns she won't get nearly as much as she does for her white babies.
Two of the men who fathered children with Hester are also involved. Russell G. Jones is the showman reverend who fears what association with Hester will do to his following. When Michael Braun enters as her first love, and father of her 13-year-old, it seems like he's ready to turn Hester's world around, but the proposed storybook ending switches to Hester's angry realization of what has become of her life.
With America's current leaders looking to severely limit the government assistance made available to people like Hester, IN THE BLOOD has sadly lost none of it's relevance.