Suzan-Lori Parks Appears at Davidson in Connection with Her “In the Blood” Production

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Like most of Suzan-Lori Parks’ work, In the Blood confronts the audience with the tragedies of downtrodden people and asks the viewers to not just watch, but take a stand. In the Blood focuses on a homeless, illiterate single mother, Hester La Negrita, struggling to provide for her five children amidst inner urban poverty and prejudice.

Six Davidson College student actors will showcase their interpretation of this contemporary American tragedy in fiveperformances from March 28 through April 1 in the Duke Family Performance Hall of the Knobloch Campus Center. March 28-29 performances begin at 7:30 p.m., March 30-31 at 8 p.m. and April 1 at 6:30 p.m. The audience will be seated on the stage with the actors, so attendance will be more limited than standard productions in the venue. The play contains graphic sexual content, violence and crude language, and is recommended only for ages 17 and up.

General admission is $15, $11 for seniors, $9 faculty/staff, and $6 students. Tickets can be purchased weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Alvarez College Union ticket office in person or by phone at 704-894-2135, or online any time at www.davidson.edu/tickets. For more information email cavanhallgren@davidson.edu. (Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks will also present two free lectures on April 3. Call 704-894-2361 for information on those events).

Parks has been a prolific and heralded storyteller on stage and page for the past 25 years, known for powerful plays about social justice and the black experience in America. Among many other honors, she is the first African American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in drama, and she won a McArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.” She wrote In the Blood in 1999.

In the Blood is a modern reflection of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 19th century novel, The Scarlet Letter. Parks’ play tells the story of a mother, Hester, and her five fatherless children. Hawthorne’s work also focused on a character named Hester who was forced to sew a scarlet letter “A” onto her dress as punishment for her illicit affair. Similarly, Park’s Hester had sexual relations with five different men and scratches out the letter “A” on the cement floor and cardboard boxes of her family’s makeshift home.

Professor of English Ann Fox, whose contemporary theatre class studied In the Blood this semester, said both works deal with flawed women tormented by the moral hypocrisy of men who rule their lives. Fox said, “The characters in both are more symbolic than realistic. They represent social forces that judge disenfranchised people like Parks’s Hester LaNegrita and Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne. In the Blood is highly contemporary, but its message has been voiced in literature throughout history. Both stories ask us to think critically about our society and question our own complicity in these tragedies.”

Hester La Negrita is entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers, who in turn take advantage of her. Hester’s future and that of her children grows dim. Her white friend Miga both uses her and cares about her struggles, and advises her toseek help from her children’s fathers. Hester does so, and the play moves on to their hypocritical stories and a chilling conclusion. Davidson student Christa Johnson ’12, who plays the part of Hester, said, “I’ve never worked on a play as emotionally dense, one that took more time for me to learn.”

Parks has given directors of the play an unusual amount of latitude for creativity by writing into the script many “spells” and “rests.” The rests are times when an actor has something to say to another actor, but holds it in and stays silent. The spells are also periods of no dialogue that the Davidson interpreters of the play have chosen to fill with sound and movement. Professor of Theatre and Director Ann Marie Costa said, “We’ve approached these moments by asking the actors what their characters are feeling, and then worked with them to find a suitable abstract physical expression for it.”

Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Alison Bory has also been working with the cast of veteran student actors to fill those spaces with movement and sound. Costa noted, “It creates a mixture of modern dance and drama. Even without words, I believe the audience will feel the emotion, the tension between the characters in these moments. It should be compelling to watch. ”

Other direction for the play has come from Winthrop University dramatist Anna Sartin, who has created a set littered with foundurban objects like discarded tires, cardboard boxes, old mattresses and oil drums. Carolyn Bryan is the costume designer, and Josh Peklo is lighting designer.
In addition to Johnson, the cast includes Audrey Gyurgyik ’12, Amos McCandless ’14, Lori Pitts ’12, Rodney Saunders ’13 , and Brandon Smalls ’12. All are theatre majors, and each will play two roles—as one of Hester’s children, and as the adults who complicate her life.

Gyurgyik, who plays Hester’s friend Miga, is excited to be in a play that directly deals with contemporary social issues in a straightforward way. “This will stir up the community,” Gyurgyik said. “You can’t just watch this play and leave it behind like traditional entertainment. In the Blood leaves you asking questions. It challenges you to act.”

Two public programs are being planned at the college in coordination with the production of In the Blood. On Thursday, March 15, the cast, director and stage managerswill join the public in a dinner discussion about poverty. That will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Black Student Coalition House on Patterson Court. On Monday, March 26, the Upsilon Mu Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority invites the public to a discussion about the economic and religious responses to poverty. That event will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Sprinkle Room of the Alvarez College Union. For more information on both events, contact vijackson@davidson.edu, or call 618-402-1690.

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,900 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.

Buck Lawrimore
editor@charlotteareanews.com

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