Con-Con Presents A Riveting Production Of In the Blood By Suzan-Lori Parks

Professional Theatre

Review by: Kevin Kelly

How many tour de force performances are allowed in one show? Apparently, Director Cory Molner could care less about that, as his cast attacks this play with acute, moving, and layered characterizations. It certainly helps that this show is written by Suzan-Lori Parks, an American playwright, screenwriter, musician, and novelist. Her 2001 play Topdog/Underdog won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2002; Parks is the first African American woman to achieve this honor for drama. So right there we have the "Now that's what the fuck I'm talking about" moment. In The Blood premiered at The Joseph Papp Public Theater in 1999.

This play haunted me because I remember a long time ago, I made a stupid comment about a single mother who I thought was not making the best choices for her kids. And my best friend, who was also a single mother said "Don't be so rash. You do the best you can." I'll never forget that life lesson. How the hell did I know what she was going through? Her best friend might be saying "you're doing great, keep it up". I never made that mistake again.

But in thinking about that single mother, In the Blood presented Hester, La Negrita (Jeannine Gaskin) - The main protagonist of the play, and mother of five bastard children. She struggles to find help from anyone for her children in poverty. She is surrounded by eldest son Jabber, 13 years old and considered slow (Daryl Kelly); Bully, oldest daughter, 12, good heart, tough exterior (Shannon Sharkey); Trouble, middle son, 10, mischievous (Patrick Gladish); Beauty, youngest daughter, 7, snitch (Grace Mitri); and Baby, youngest son, 2, (Anthony X). Each child's persona is deftly portrayed, and the interaction between Hester her kids becomes very real right in front of your eyes.        
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Hester lives in a state of illiteracy while claiming as a home for herself and her children, the underside of a bridge. She is offered ineffectual help by her closest friend, Amiga Gringa (Mitri), by a social worker (Sharkey), by a roaming medical doctor (Gladish), and by an evangelical street preacher (X). Help is seemingly at hand when Chili (Kelly), the father of her first “treasure,” Jabber, appears and offers her a chance for rescue. However, when he learns of her four other children, he quickly withdraws, never to return. Her friend’s offer of help is for Hester to pose with her in a series of pornographic opportunities. The social worker has a job readied for the mother, a job that would necessitate her children being taken over by the state. The doctor desires to remove Hester’s reproductive organs to prevent her from having additional children. Finally, the minister refuses to acknowledge any responsibility for Hester or for the child he gave her. The only letter of the alphabet that her literate son, Jabber, has taught her is “A,” a clear reference to the Hawthorne original in which Hester Prine must wear the scarlet “A.” When vandals etch the word “slut” on the walls of the bridge, Jabber refuses to read it for her. However, in the end, the same word has dire consequences. 

These actors surrounding Hester are phenomenal. I can tell you that I wanted to punch each one of them upside the head at one point. As kids, their innocence thrives, as Adults, their shallowness, and conniving hearts are sometimes unbearable to watch. They are cast perfectly. And speaking of perfect......

Jeannie Gaskin is a force of nature. She displays the tenderness of motherly love in terrible circumstances, She infuses her undeniable pull to protect and raise her children and protect them, and she allows us to watch how even the greatest of loves can be eroded over time when there is no luck. None at all. Gaskin maneuvers all these emotions and paths in total clarity and realism. She is strong, confident, broken, fierce, and facilitates as a damaged May Pole under a bridge to nowhere. Truly a remarkable performance.

Cory Molner has done a terrific job of crafting this presentation. The staging and pace are excellent. Just artistically a beautiful show. It also helps he did the Lighting Design which was haunting, and very effective. I felt like I was looking at the bridge components next to Christie's Cabaret. Scott Zolkowksi had a beautiful and effective Scenic Design, as well as the Costume Design, Really strong work. Beau Reinker designed the Sound to really work beautifully with the show and dialogue and greatly enhanced the scenes. Perfect balance. Lucy Bredeson-Smith called a great show.

All these actors are on fire. Go See This!

Cleveland Stage Alliance
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8pm Thursdays
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays

$10-$20 General Admission

(216) 687-0074
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Liminis Theater
2438 Scranton Rd
Cleveland, OH 44113