“Midnight. Everyone should be in bed. But theyre not. Itd be nice if they was all in bed and not on their way to me.”
— Hester, from “Fucking A” by Suzan-Lori Parks
Hester wears an apron, blood dotting the fabric. As she washes up, the audience glimpses a large capital letter burned directly into her skin.
In “Fucking A,” a blistering reimagining of Nathanial Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” Suzan-Lori Parks explores class, justice and the lengths we’ll go to protect — and avenge — the ones we love.
“This play is raw, visceral and in-your face,” said Jacqueline Thompson, guest director in the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, who will direct the show April 20-23 in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre.
“These characters experience the most unthinkable, inhumane situations,” Thompson continued. “Somehow they still push through.”
Parks, one of the most acclaimed playwrights of her generation, is a MacArthur “genius award” recipient and the first African American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, for “Topdog/Underdog.” Other major works include Pulitzer nominees “In the Blood” and “Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)”; the Tony Award-winning adaptation “The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess”; and the yearlong cycle “365 Days/365 Plays.”
“Fucking A,” which debuted in Houston in February 2000, is Parks’ second “riff,” as she calls them, on Hawthorne. “In the Blood,” which premiered the year before, also borrows elements of “The Scarlett Letter,” including a lead character named Hester. But where “In the Blood” is an almost classical tragedy, “Fucking A” charges forward with the velocity of a nightmare.
See also: After Roe v. Wade: Making sense of Suzan-Lori Parks’ ‘F***ing A’
“There’s a brilliant chaos to Parks’ writing,” said Thompson, who previously directed “In the Blood” for the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “But there’s also an amazing complexity. We’ve been in rehearsals for six weeks, and we’re still unpacking new layers and levels.
In “Fucking A,” Hester is a former maid for the Rich family. Her son, caught stealing from the pantry, was arrested and taken away. Hester was given a choice between prison and working as an abortionist.
Decades later, wearing the brand of her office, Hester is at once reviled and revered, while the Rich girl who testified against her son has married the mayor and become first lady. But memories are long. When an escaped convict bearing a unique scar arrives on the scene, Hester’s simmering fury begins to boil over.
“Hester has had a hard life,” Thompson said. “Her son has been in jail for 30 years, and for 30 years Hester saved money to try to buy him out.” In this play, “we see her friends and community, but we also see what a mother will do for her son’s freedom.
“It’s a two-hour journey that forces us all to dig down deep.”
Cast and crew
The cast of 12 is led by Naomi Blair as Hester, with Isabel Koleno as Canary Mary and Marielle Hinrichs and Alexander Hewlett as the first lady and mayor. Jordan Thomas is the monster. Camden Dyer is the butcher.
Andrew Breton is the scribe and the guard. Amariyon Green is Jailbait. Aldrich Hartwell Yu and Aarsh Patel are hunters as well as freed prisoners. Rounding out the cast are Heather Anderson as the Freedom Fund lady and a waiting woman, and Idia Ogbomoh as a waiting woman.
Scenic design is by Ella Matthews, with props by Emily Frei. Costumes are by Dominique Rhea Green, who also serves as intimacy coordinator. Sean Savoie is sound and projections designer. Lighting and music are by Zach Cohn and Courtney Smith, respectively. The stage manager is Simran Wadhwa; the assistant director is Christian Kitchens.
Performances of “Fucking A” will begin at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 20, 21 and 22. Matinee performances will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 22 and 23.
The A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd. Tickets are $20, or $15 for seniors, students and WashU faculty and staff, and free for WashU students. Tickets are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office. For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit pad.wustl.edu.
Content warning: Please note that this play includes simulated acts of nonconsensual intimacy and situations involving complicated consent. It also includes discussion and actions related to unwanted pregnancy and infertility.
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