“In the Blood” by Suzan-Lori Parks delivers a sliver of the life of a street person named “Hester La Negrita” with some inter-generational contorted winks and nudges to Hawthorn’s classic “A Scarlett Letter.” Hester, played by Dawn Taylor, wrestles with the struggles of being a homeless single mother with five children (with an equal number of different fathers) living under a bridge. As if this isn’t difficult enough, we learn Hester is illiterate –with the exception of knowing the letter “A” (the first wink at Hawthorn). Her five children each have their own set of rose-colored glasses amid the distorted normalcy of their existence, which Hester manages to hold together in spite of odds stacked against her. Although the people around Hester all insist they know what is best for her, it is revealed incrementally that everyone has been exploiting her all along.
…this production has some “eye-opening” facets to it which warrant introspection at some level as a society.
“Hester La Negrita” in this story is quite the antithesis of the Hester Prynne in Hawthorn’s story, though they do share commonalities. Both Hesters as secretive about their children’s fathers and are ultimately shamed for it, for example. I could go on and draw many other comparisons here, but honestly, these connections have little relevance to the overall production of this play. Certainly, I can appreciate the skill of the playwright and boldness of the director, Mari Andrea Travis, but while this production is rich in societal assertions, it simultaneously is barren in art. I felt the characters in this story have no special qualities about them nor do they offer much outside of blunt sketches of human beings at their worst.
Taylor’s portrayal of “Hester La Negrita” was the shining star of this production. She sells the acknowledgment of the character’s mistakes well, including having her children, but conveys naturally the need to keep that sentiment away from her kids. Moreover, the ensemble was quite animated, especially when they portrayed the rambunctious children chasing each other and play fighting. Some notable performers include Adam Cooley, who played the crude doctor and Hester’s son “Trouble.”
At one point in the show, the doctor confesses to the audience that he had relations with Hester before in an ally. His detailed encounter was raunchy, but you would expect that on the streets. Also, Betse Lyons as “Amiga Gringa” and Hester’s daughter “Beauty” was raw and mischievous. Her wardrobe sold the parts well, so credit to costume designer Sharlene Clinton. Justin Prince, who played “Reverend D.” and “Baby” pulled off the soapbox preacher trying to keep Hester mum about their indiscretions. That was one of the most humorous scenes in the play.
The set was what one might expect in the downtrodden part of any town, USA. It was run down with garbage thrown about and graffiti. Michael Vincent forged this skid row set, which got some lighting help from Steven Burrall to give it a seedy ambiance. I felt the movement from scene to scene was very fluid and impressive, so the stage manager Lydia McCaw deserves some credit for overseeing these transitional scenes involving actors playing multiple roles. I also liked the music selection right as the show was about to begin and really could have used more of it throughout the performance.
Overall I think this production has some “eye-opening” facets to it which warrant introspection at some level as a society. Though one can argue people faced the same types of societal reflections back in Hawthorne’s day, and yet we still find ourselves writing and performing shows with these same themes embedded within them. Suzan-Lori Parks has managed to demonstrate that although the dynamics of society may change, society itself continues to be a work in progress.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
“In the Blood” is playing now at Fells Point Corner Theatre through November 3, 2019. For more information and tickets, click here.