Presented by the Black Community and Student Theatre (BlackC.A.S.T), Suzan-Lori Parks’s “In the Blood” captured all the elements of classic tragedy and dark humor with a subtle message about the pervasiveness of human hypocrisy. Directed by Faith O. Imafidon ’07, and co-produced by Christian I.C. Strong ’09 and Jessie E.A. Washington ’09, “In the Blood” updates Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic text “The Scarlet Letter.” Running this past weekend at the Agassiz Theatre, the play explores the modern stigma of being a mother of illegitimate children.
Strict Puritan mores are replaced with the doctrine of personal responsibility and the disdain for welfare mothers. Hester Prynne is transformed into Hester La Negrita (Jenné B. Ayers ’10), an illiterate homeless mother of five who lives on the fringes of society, under a bridge. Instead of being forced to wear a scarlet “A,” she continually writes the letter “A” because it is only letter of the alphabet that she knows.
Hester is viewed largely as a burden to society because her quest for social advancement is undermined by her tendency to look for love in all the wrong places.
The actors playing her five children also double as the five adults in Hester’s life that used her for their sexual pleasure and left her with the burden of raising children by herself. The actors’ dual portrayal of children and adults solidified the connection between the exploitative acts Hester’s peers and her “chosen” lifestyle.
Ayers did an excellent job of conveying the internal turmoil plaguing Hester. She convincingly conveyed the feelings of maternal affection, vulnerable emotion, and an air of weariness. The audience could not help but be drawn into Ayers’s performance and share in her apparent despair.
Jon E. Gentry ’07, who doubled as Reverend D and Hester’s youngest son Baby, was the most engaging member of the cast. At Nov. 10 performance, during his “I have fallen and I can’t get up” sermon, members of the audience could even be heard facetiously clapping, and chanting “Amen” in response to his booming voice.
Renée A. Ragin ’10 who played both the welfare social worker and Hester’s oldest daughter, Bully, successfully portrayed the frigid and intimidating adult character. However, her depiction of Bully, a tough kid from the streets was far less persuasive because she seemed so clean-cut.
Jesse W. Barron ’09 (Doctor/Trouble) provided some comedic moments, including his performance in the check-up scene in which Hester’s anatomy was examined as if she were an automobile in a repair shop.
Tragic irony loomed throughout the play and was appropriately mirrored by the unchanging background of the bridge. Set designer, Elizabeth B. Rose ’08, deserves special praise for her arrangement of furniture and makeshift bridge girders, which aptly illustrated the squalid conditions of Hester and her family.
“In the Blood” consistently demonstrated how exploitation can take many unexpected forms and how easily blame can be projected onto others. Hester, in turn, shows that despite her victimization, she too is capable of harming others. After killing her oldest son, Hester writes the letter “A” using his blood, a gripping special effect.
Initially, it might seem difficult for much of Harvard’s elite student body to immediately identify with the plight of people on the margins of society. But the actors were able to demonstrate some fundamental aspects of human nature, the search for love, and the difficulty of dealing with the consequences.
Ultimately, the play leaves the audience shocked by the hypocrisy of the characters who chose to exploit Hester rather than help her. Unfortunately, since the story ends unresolved the message of the play is largely unclear. Without explicitly stating which choice is correct, the audience is prompted to think about whether they should feel powerless like Hester or empowered like her exploitative peers.