Brandon Victor Dixon and Christine Lahti in Fucking A. Photo by Joan Marcus.
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
Presented by Signature Theatre
By Suzan-Lori Parks
Written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Suzan-Lori Parks, The Red Letter Plays: Fucking A & In the Blood are new productions of two modern-day remixes of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter that conjure two distinct interpretations of Hester, Western literature’s most famous adulteress.
“There really is nothing quite like the Signature Residency One experience. Over the past year, I’ve been able to revisit plays I wrote more than two decades ago in fresh and exciting ways, and share them with new, diverse audiences. Now Fucking A and In the Blood are being performed side by side, for the first time ever, at Signature. The plays were conceived from the same idea but until now have lived very separate lives. I can’t wait to participate in the dialogue that will come from witnessing these two works in concert.” – Suzan Lori-Parks
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Directed by Jo Bonney
J. Cameron Barnett, Brandon Victor Dixon, Ben Horner, Joaquina Kalukango, Marc Kudisch, Christine Lahti, Ruibo Qian, Elizabeth Stanley, Raphael Nash Thompson
Scenic Design: Rachel Hauck
Costume Design: Emilio Sosa
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Darron L West
Projection Design: Rocco Disanti
Music Direction: Todd Almond
Choreographer: Tanya Birl
Stage Manager: Evangeline Rose Whitlock
First Performance August 22, 2017
Opening September 11, 2017
Final Performance October 1, extended through October 8, 2017
In Fucking A, Hester Smith, the revered and reviled local abortionist, hatches a plan to buy her jailed son’s freedom—and nothing will deter Hester from her quest. In this wild-eyed blend of story and song, directed by Obie Award-winner Jo Bonney (Father Comes Home From the Wars), Hester’s branded letter A becomes a provocative emblem of vengeance, violence, and sacrifice.
Ben Brantley – New York Times
The challenge that confronts the director Jo Bonney with this production — which opened on Monday night at the Pershing Square Signature Center with a cast that memorably includes Brandon Victor Dixon — is nowhere near as simple as the blunt language of the play’s dialogue.
Howard Miller – Talkin’ Broadway
The play unfolds with the inevitably of a Greek myth, with a low-key style of performance that would seem to be intentional on the part of director Jo Bonney. It is the kind of distancing effect that Brecht was partial to, forcing us to think about the big issues without allowing us to get pulled into the particulars of character or plot. Whatever emotional connection we feel is the result of what we bring to the table ourselves. As a consequence, and after so much set-up, the act of revenge is rather anti-climactic. There is no catharsis for Hester or for us. Even as she triumphs, nothing has really changed. Instead, we leave her getting ready to answer the bell for her next customer.
Frank Scheck – The Hollywood Reporter
Suzan-Lori Parks’ profanely titled 2000 play delivers a theatrical riff on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, throwing in elements of Jacobean revenge tragedy and the plays of Bertolt Brecht for good measure. All this should be enough to create an engaging theatrical experience, but F—ing A never manages to transcend its derivative, ersatz feel. Instead the work comes across like the thesis playwriting project of a zealous grad student as it dutifully recycles theatrical tropes. It may occasionally succeed in its goal of shocking the audience, but for long stretches this play just never comes to theatrical life.
Elyse Sommer – Curtain Up
As was the case for the Residency 1’s re-visit to the playwright’s pre-Pulitzer plays Venus and The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, Fucking A has been given a production that works well on all levels. It’s directed by Jo Bonney with a sense for the rhythm to keeps it flowing. The cast, top to bottom, is up to giving fresh, meaningful life to this saga that’s as relentlessly downbeat and bloody as any Greek tragedy.
Will Jacobs – Theatre Is Easy
This is not the feel good show of the year. It has startlingly funny moments, very charming songs, and well-meaning characters, but at the end of the day Fucking A exists in a wasteland. I mean, it’s a revenge plot executed by an outcast abortionist. For those who can stomach the brutalities (and I suggest you do), Fucking A is a thrill ride that shines a glaring light at our own world’s massive incongruities. Parks is a master storyteller who can communicate critical points without obfuscating her characters’ stakes, one who knows her principles well enough to make any story captivating. You can’t go wrong with Fucking A if you enjoy hard-hitting, thought-provoking theater, but if you’re looking for something because Hello, Dolly! is sold out, this obviously isn’t the best replacement.
IN THE BLOOD
Directed by Sarah Benson
Jocelyn Bioh, Michael Braun, Russell G. Jones, Ana Reeder, Saycon Sengbloh, Frank Wood
Scenic Design: Louisa Thompson
Costume Design: Montana Blanco
Lighting Design: Yi Zhao
Sound Design: Matt Tierney
Fight Direction: J. David Brimmer
Stage Manager: Terri K. Kohler
First Performance August 29, 2017
Opening September 17, 2017
Final Performance October 8, extended through October 15, 2017
In the Blood’s Hester La Negrita is a penniless mother of five condemned by the men who love her, in this play hailed by The New York Times as “…a work of art.” You will leave thrilled, even comforted by its mastery.” Hester turns to former lovers, friends, and the institutions meant to support her, only to be spurned by them all with devastating consequences, in this new production directed by Obie Award-winner Sarah Benson (An Octoroon).
Ben Brantley – New York Times
Tragedy stalks Hester La Negrita, the heroine of Suzan-Lori Parks’s “In the Blood,” as relentlessly as it does the doomed queens of Euripides and Racine. Played with exquisitely clouded radiance by Saycon Sengbloh in the Signature Theater’s first-rate revival of this genre-mutating 1999 drama, the illiterate Hester would probably never presume to talk in such highfalutin terms.
Marilyn Stasio – Variety
“In the Blood,” originally produced by the Public Theater and a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize, is set in the present day. Saycon Sengbloh (“Eclipsed”) gives a remarkable performance as Hester, an illiterate homeless woman who lives under a bridge with her five beloved children (“My treasures! My joy!”), each fathered by a different man. Like the heroine in Hawthorne’s novel, Hester is used and abused by people – her lovers, her social worker, her pastor, her best friend — who hypocritically profess to care for her. Unlike Hawthorne’s heroine, this Hester allows herself to be exploited, unwisely trusting that her carnal generosity will be rewarded.
Sara Holdren – Vulture
In the Blood was first performed in 1999, but in the powerful production now at Signature Theatre, we never forget that we are grappling with the particular horrors of the here and now, facing down the specific breed of resentment and contempt this society reserves for women of color.
Zachary Stewart – TheaterMania
Poverty is a contagion. People go out of their way not to catch it, to physically avoid the afflicted. This is true in the world of Suzan-Lori Parks’s In the Blood, but it is also true in our own heavily segregated cities. The program describes the setting as “here” and “now,” and after sitting through this searing revival, you know it to be the case.
Thom Geier – The Wrap
But her writing is sharp and nuanced despite the fact that her characters are mostly nameless archetypes (The Welfare Lady, Amiga Gringa). And she manages to avoid the trap of fetishizing Hester’s predicament. As The Doctor says at one point to justify his lascivious history with his patient, “Suffering is an enormous turn-on.”
Maria Paz Alegre – Theatre Is Easy
This is not the Scarlet Letter you remember from your tenth-grade summer reading. This is Suzan Lori-Parks, and the “A” stands for her annihilation of apathy.