Now that Halloween has come and gone, if you find yourself feeling disappointingly un-frightened, pull yourself out of your candy-induced coma and make your way down to Pomona College’s Seaver Theatre, where you will be haunted by demons that are not dead and gone but alive and present.
The Department of Theatre and Dance’s second main stage production of the season is In the Blood, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Susan-Lori Parks and directed by guest director Kenshaka Ali. In the Blood, a loose companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic The Scarlet Letter, earned Parks her first Pulitzer nomination, and with good reason. The play cleverly echoes Hawthorne’s novel, from the name of the leading lady—Hester—to the significance of a blood-red letter “A.” Yet it does not read like a tired reworking of an old favorite, but a decidedly new and modern depiction of suffering.
The basic story is as follows: Hester (Tori Gaines CM ’13), mother of five children from five different fathers, lives under a bridge in modern-day New York City. She struggles daily to make ends meet, even while, in her words, “the ends just get farther apart.” Visited by various friends and confidants, if we can call them that, Hester works herself to the bone trying to get “a leg up” and to make her way to salvation. Through a series of monologues, we learn from each of these figures how they have used and abused Hester. Try as she may to rise above, the unfairness of life eventually takes its toll on Hester.
As always, the technical team did Broadway-worthy work creating the visual world of Park’s play. Adam Flemming’s scenic design creates the image of urban decay—the stage is strewn with trash and the ruins of forgotten infrastructure, all beneath a starry sky of dimly lit scaffolding. Sound, the unsung hero of live theater, drifts in and out so seamlessly that you almost don’t notice it. Chrissie Munich’s dramatic and creative lighting strategically shines the same harsh, too-bright glare on the cast of characters that Parks does with her writing. I can once again pull out my usual words of advice to our college theater-going community: Come for your friends, stay for the art direction. Our productions are always visually stunning.
The story of the family under the bridge is a difficult one to tell, but the spirited ensemble comes at it with commendable commitment and enthusiasm. Tearful confessions from each of the supporting cast members even give the impression that In the Blood is less a story of Hester’s suffering as it is a tale of universal suffering that only happens to be linked by a connection to a single unfortunate woman. Either way, Wednesday night’s preview garnered a standing ovation from the student audience.
In the Blood will be performed at Seaver Theatre tonight through Sunday, with performances at 8 p.m. tonight and 2 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday. Tickets are available through the Seaver Theatre box office and online through the department website at rates of $10 for general admission and $5 for the 5C community. For information and inquiries, contact the box office at 909-607-4375.