‘In the Blood:’ Hauntingly Modern

Matt Markowski
“In the Blood” is inspired by “The Scarlet Letter” and is now showing at the Signature Theatre.

looSociety, sex, oppression, poverty and more are all at the center of the haunting revival of Suzan Lori-Parks’s “In the Blood” at Signature Theater. The production ends Parks’ Residency One at Signature Theatre playing alongside a revival of her play “Fucking A.” Both plays were inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s renowned book “The Scarlet Letter.” Originally premiering the show in 1999, Parks creates a modern world that is dauntingly similar to the present. Her play is both haunting and thrilling for all of its intermission-free two hours.

The play concerns Hester, played by Saycon Sengbloh with wavering resilience, a mother of ve bastard children all living together under a bridge. Hester attempts to provide for her children the best that she can in order for them to lead prosperous lives. As times worsen, Hester looks to the fathers of her first-born and youngest for help and money. “The five-fingered hand of fate,” as Parks describes Hester’s life, constantly beats down this hero, ending in utter tragedy.

Sarah Benson’s direction is simplistic, yet complex. Her spacing of characters and use of the two-level set creates tension that aids Parks’ poetic words. Benson’s use of projections and spotlights during the five confessions adds gravity to the already serious moments.

Sengbloh creates a breath-takingly horrifying portrait of a woman who attempts to balance her unbalanced life, yet fails in the end. She takes Hester on a complete journey from wavering strength to complete destruction. At times, Sengbloh pauses and the audience can see the thought processes of her character. She utterly devotes herself to her role creating a character that seems to have come on stage directly from her home under a bridge.

The rest of the ve cast members, especially Anna Reeder, Jocelyn Bloh and Frank Wood, are outstanding. Each plays one of Hester’s children and the corresponding father that led to their eventual birth. They all seamlessly transform from a young child not yet touched by the hand of fate into a tortured adult.

Parks’ play is more relevant than ever. It illustrates the struggles that the world forces upon the poor. Her words ring with a poetic and genuine tone creating life like characters. She presents a woman whose story is true to all — after enough trial and tribulation from “the five-fingered hand of fate,” life explodes. One is reminded of Lorraine Hansbury’s “A Raisin in the Sun” in viewing Parks’ “In the Blood.” Both are true testaments to the pressures of the world and life.

“In the Blood” is playing at Signature Theatre 480 W. 42nd St. through Oct. 8th, with an official opening on Sept. 17th.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 11 print edition. Email Matt Markowski at [email protected]

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