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A CurtainUp Review
In the Blood
By Elyse Sommer
The central character of In the Blood is a modern day Hester Prynne played with great passion by Charlayne Woodard. Her letter A is not sewn to her dress but scratched out on the cement ground and walls of the makeshift home under a bridge where she struggles to make a life for her five illegitimate children. In that world Hawthorne's epithet Adulteress becomes Slut. The letter A is a metaphor for how far -- or rather how little -- she's progressed in her struggle and Hawthorne's scarlet thread is transmuted into a puddle of blood.
While In the Blood has its comic moments, what it's definitely not about is light entertainment. Ms. Parks' raw reimagining of "The Scarlet Letter" takes us into the subterranean existence of one homeless woman, her children and the people whose own weaknesses prompt them to prey on hers. It is an unremittingly dark and hopeless tale and yet, it achieves moments of poetry in its picture of a living hell. These poetic moments come through a series of soliloquies which Ms. Parks calls confessions. The confessors are Hester and the various people who have failed to heed her desperate cry for a "leg up: "
David Esbjornson has given this grim slice of life in the dead end lane of illiteracy and homelessness an appropriately dark staging. The dismal setting is captured with depressing accuracy by Narelle Sissoons set and Jane Cox's lighting. Charlayne Woodard embodies Hester's hunger and despair and the other five members of the cast tackle the difficult task of playing her children as well as the adult characters. This double casting works surprisingly well -- especially in the case of Bruce MacVittie who plays the aptly named middle son, Trouble, as well as the bureaucracy pressured doctor and Gael Grate who portrays the desperate-to-be-good eldest daughter and the insensitive social worker. Reggie Montgomery is cleverly cast as the baby and the Reverend who fathers him, though his baby stints add a somewhat jarring clownish element.
With the theater reconfigured so that the 99 seats straddle the stage, creating the sense of looking out of one's window and onto the street. Each section of seats is only five rows deep so you are as close to the actors as you often are to the homeless you pass in the streets of New York. But Hester and her children defy you to look past them and demand to be heard. It doesn't make for easy listening, and one can only hope that stories such as this will one day be as outdated as Hester Prynne's public branding with her letter A.