Although Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850 and is set in the 17th century, its ideas remain shockingly relevant today. Like many classics, its timeless story has inspired many modern adaptations. One such variation, much more colorfully named than the original, is Suzan-Lori Parks’s play F!%#ING A. As part of her thesis on theater as a political space, Daria Dulan PO ’12 is staging a reading of Parks’s script in Doms Lounge this weekend.
Hawthorne’s novel, the story of Hester Prynne and her illegitimate child in 17th century New England, examines the double standards of sexual liberty between men and women, the censure of society for someone who has violated its moral code, and the unbridled love between parent and child.
Dulan was originally drawn to playwright Parks for her politically charged plays.
“She’s a black feminist,” Dulan said. “She might not claim all of that, but she has similar politics to what a black feminist would have.” Dulan explained that she chose F!%#ING A in particular because of the confrontational stance it took.
“I’m more interested in the radical and direct play than I am with the indirect kind of play,” she said.
F!%#ING A is not a mere modernization of Hawthorne’s original story, although it bears strong similarities. Like The Scarlet Letter, Parks’s story deals with the love of a mother for her illegitimate child. The main conflict of the play revolves around Hester Smith’s quest to have a picnic lunch with her incarcerated son.
In another parallel, the heroines of both works must forever bear the letter “A,” but while the heroine of The Scarlet Letter must simply sew the letter on her clothing, Parks’s main character has it physically branded onto her skin. Moreover, whereas Hester Prynne’s “A” stands for “Adulteress,” Hester Smith’s “A” stands for “Abortionist.”
Here, the two stories begin to diverge drastically: while The Scarlet Letter is set in Puritan America, F!%#ING A is set in a modern, nightmarish alternate reality evocatively representational of our own. The story quickly descends into very dark subject matter, dealing not only with women’s reproductive rights, sexual freedom, and sexual violence, but issues of racial injustice. The play has even garnered a mature content advisory, but for any adventurous play-goer it is well worth the while.
Ultimately, F!%#ING A is a deeply provocative work, and the fact that the issues raised in a novel written over 100 years ago remain so relevant is very telling.
“The double standards we have as women, whether that applies to what we do to entertain ourselves, how we make a means to live… I think it’s very real and very present today as much as it was when The Scarlet Letter came out, unfortunately,” Dulan said.
Parks’s rendition of the classic is as political as it is captivating, and while Dulan predicts the play will spark dialogue about representation and misrepresentation in theater, she wants the audience to experience the play on their own terms.
“Really my goal isn’t to direct the conversation,” Dulan said. “I think that whatever comes up for the audience member, they should be vocal about it and nurture the dialogue about it whatever it may be.”
F!%#ING A will be read on Saturday Nov. 5 at 11 a.m. and Sunday Nov. 6 at 5 p.m. in Doms Lounge.