I am grateful for “In The Blood” and I am grateful for writer and lucid dreamer nd Suzan Lori-Parks.
Her play, inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” isn’t about myths or artistic experimentation, something Lori-Parks is known for and familiar with. It’s not about ideas (but they’re here) or absurdity (also here). If it were about those things, all the power would crumble.
Chika Ike’s smart, sleight-of-hand directing keeps “In The Blood” focused squarely on Hester (Jyreika Guest), a struggling, deeply impoverished mother with five children, five fathers (mostly the doubled-up cast of children), and an unspecified gut pain. Nobody sees her, but everybody uses her until there’s nothing left to take. The light and sound design are subtle and stylish, gracing us with the good transitional bops and punctuations that drive scenes into our chests without holding our hands. Gaby Labotka’s fight and intimacy choreography have incredible tonal variation, jumping between a family melee, invasive check-ups, and a vicious, unbearable murder with slops of blood.
Spoilers, I guess, but can you spoil the obvious? Hester’s honesty, surrounded by cynics and capitalists, can only live for so long. Her blackness, womynness and sexuality weren’t meant to survive in this world, just to be used by it. When her “friend,” Amiga Gringa (a flamboyant, gilded, and gleefully obnoxious Emilie Modaff) skimps her on pawned goods, did we not see it happening? When the Doctor (Casey Chapman, chameleonic, bone-chillingly manipulative) inspects and objectifies her body, of course he does. Welfare (Kiayla Ryann, deliciously despicable) demands a massage before doling out pitiful benefits, and isn’t that just?
“In The Blood” takes our global injustices and distills them to the absurdity and individual delusions that leave the poor hungry, white and black segregated, and the homeless out in the cold. When the Doctor or the Preacher (Richard Costes) get the chance to speak their side, everything that comes out of their mouth is a self-serving justification. And Hester is the container of every damn word. Despite her best intentions, she’s pushed by lies and maimed by bootstrap-mentality. She snaps at the kids, constant reminders of people who burden her. “You’re all bastards!” is an early, and comparatively minor, example.
Somehow, this show took me far enough away that I nearly overlooked Guest. Hers is some of the best acting work I’ve seen in Chicago. She rolls together grace, goofiness, venom and despair in an intimate, physical performance that left me believing every moment of the show. Ike, the cast, and the designers have put together a show that left me heartbroken, grief-struck and grateful. (Jay Van Ort)
Red Tape Theatre at The Ready, 4546 North Western, (708)209-0183, redtapetheatre.org, Free. Through February 23.