California Repertory’s latest production directed by Desean K. Terry is Suzan-Lori Parks’ In the Blood, a modern day riff on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter. It introduces audiences to the homeless Hester La Negrita (Sara-Michelle Guei) and her five children conceived by different fathers.
Hester’s resources are limited and her reputation as a woman of questionable morals puts her at a considerable disadvantage. Her struggle to survive is punctuated by poor decision making and her volatile temper, keeping her from improving the lives of her family.
Her five children are played by adult actors who also double as adult characters who are influences in Hester’s life. Her daughter, Beauty (Loreena Hansen) is also Amiga Gringa, Hester’s mischievous and scheming friend. Her eldest son, Jabber (Lino Mora) also plays Jabber’s wayward father, Chilli. Middle son Trouble (Kristian Power) doubles as Hester’s doctor. Her youngest son, Baby (Aaron Allen) is also the corrupt Reverend D. And the scrappy, youngest daughter, Bully (Tara Webster) additionally plays Hester’s welfare agent. The versatility of the show’s performers paired with Julie Park’s detailed costume designs keep the audience from becoming confused at these switches.
The acting performances in this collegiate production are professional-grade. Standouts include Guei for her grasp of Hester’s frantically heightened emotional state of rage and confusion, whose breakdown at the play’s climax is a suitable thesis on dramatic acting. Hansen comes alive in her moments as Amiga Gringa as she shakes her hips and sneers at the audience. And Mora’s childlike Jabber is an authentic wonder—a pitch perfect performance.
All in all, In the Blood is completely appropriate for California Repertory’s stage—the limited and sparse set decoration reflects the cycle of poverty well and the use of chalk to manipulate the set as the play proceeded was a masterful touch. Director Terry states the work functions as “a searing commentary on systemic oppression.” I’m inclined to agree. It was rather eye opening.
Please note that In the Blood is not suitable for younger audiences with its use of foul and suggestive language along with an endearingly awkward sex act simulation.
In the Blood runs until March 1 at California Repertory at California State University Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd. Performances are located inside the Theatre Arts building. Tickets start at $18. Online ticketing is available at calrep.org. The theater’s box office can be reached at (562) 985-5526.