courtesy of the Stage Center Theater.
Hester holds her empty stomach as her five children nosily slurp soup. Her oldest son Jabber looks up at Hester and says “you ain’t hungry?”
Hester simply replies, “I’ll eat later.”
“In the Blood” is a play by Suzan-Lori Parks and directed by Professor Angela Sweigart-Gallagher. It tackles an issue that is very real in our society—poverty.
Parks is the first African-American woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her 2001 play “Topdog/Underdog” in 2002, which follows similar themes.
“In the Blood” mirrors society well, in a completely harsh story where the underdog does not win. As hard as Hester tries, she is unable to pick herself up. Life does not let her. Even the seemingly good-hearted keep her down.
“Some of the people she encounters take advantage of her,” Sweigart-Gallagher said. “And she’s trying to be the best mother she can be but things seem stacked against her. And the people who are supposed to help are just taking further advantage of her. It’s a lot about society’s antipathy towards poor people.”
A reverend, doctor and social worker have all fathered a child with Hester at some point. Despite this they still maintain an imaginary barrier between themselves and her, respectively. They want nothing to do with her and treat her as a nuisance.
Seigart-Gallagher said “In the Blood” borrows themes from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.”
“There are elements that are similar,” she said. “We have a mother (who) is in some ways shunned for her sexual history.”
Toreana Meeky, who played Hester, gave a solid performance. Despite a couple lines stumbles Meeky manages the sensitive role accordingly. Having to transform from a strong mother to disparate beggar in one scene, Hester is emotionally investing.
While Meeky played a single role, the rest of the cast are doubles. Rufus Wood played Baby and Reverend D.
Baby is Hester’s youngest child, dressed in minion slippers and a superman shirt, who has a tendency to scream “mommy!” In the next scene Wood plays Reverend D. who forces Hester’s head between his legs because her “suffering is an enormous turn on.”
Two toddlers in the audience did not like it when the pastor screamed “slut!” at Hester. I didn’t like it either, Hester is just trying to get by. But that label haunts Hester throughout the play.
Dasheena B. Cruz, who played daughter Beauty and Amiga Gringa, gave a really entertaining performance as well. Amiga is Hester’s sassy “friend” who provides the play with a necessary liveliness that alleviates the grim subject matter. Yet Amiga regularly steals from Hester and she goes as far as to try and convince Hester to give up her kids so they can become a duo in the prostitution business.
A last ray of hope arrives in the form of Chili, Jabber’s father, both played by Mark Tacderas. There is a touching moment where he professes his love for Hester. He then pulls out a diamond ring and a wedding dress from a basket, and attempts to pull the dress over her, but it gets tangled. In the last moments, he rejects her and this rejection triggers the climax which mirrors a classic Greek tragedy.
What makes this play different from other tragedies is how genuine it seems. Other tragedies like “Romeo and Juliet” or “Oedipus Rex” are about characters at the top that brought their downfall onto themselves, due to an overblown love story or a delusional sense of masculinity.
Hester is an uneducated, homeless, mother. She was never on top and there is nowhere to fall. She has five kids from five different fathers. Hester is already down, yet somehow she falls even further.
The cast’s performance makes it certain that you will remember Hester for some time. As depressing as it may be, “In the Blood” is stemmed from reality and what happens when society deems you worthless.
“In the Blood” will continue to play through March 3 , 4 and 5 at the Stage Center Theater. Tickets are free for NEIU students.