Make us your home page
Instagram

Review: Stageworks' preachy production of 'In the Blood' feels anemic

Erica Sutherlin (standing) plays Hester in Stageworks Theatre's In the Blood. The play also features, from left, Willie Hannah, Johnny Garde, Suzy Devore, Amber Forbes and Domingo Ocasi. Courtesy of Stageworks Theatre.

Erica Sutherlin (standing) plays Hester in Stageworks Theatre's In the Blood. The play also features, from left, Willie Hannah, Johnny Garde, Suzy Devore, Amber Forbes and Domingo Ocasi. Courtesy of Stageworks Theatre.

TAMPA — From the start, it's clear that In the Blood might offer insights into the lives of people we either do not see, or people we drive past with eyes fixed straight ahead.

Unfortunately, getting any insight means first being able to believe the characters, something that is almost impossible in this preachy production.

The pedigree behind the play now at Stageworks Theatre is impressive. Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks is the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer for drama (2002, for Topdog/Underdog). Director Fanni Green teaches acting at the University of South Florida. The set by Frank Chavez effectively portrays a living space for a homeless family of six beneath an overpass, on which someone has scrawled the word "slut."

A field of objects that looks at first like the clutter of a disorganized mind, on closer examination reveals the economy of survival. Every plastic bag, soda can, bottle of bleach, sleeping bag and milk crate helps this mother and her five children acquire food or stay warm. The mother is Hester (Erica Sutherlin), whose struggles should inspire empathy in anyone who has a pulse.

Instead, the people from whom she seeks help are looking to take what little she has left. Her children, by five different men, are learning from the street. Baby crushes aluminum cans for money. Bully sleeps with her fists balled up. Jabber finds companionship in hookers.

Reverend D (played by Willie Hannah, who has his moments) has a full collection plate on Sundays and empty promises. Welfare Lady (Amber Forbes) wants to use Hester as a seamstress for pennies on the dollar. Amiga Gringa (Suzy Devore), a prostitute, wants Hester as a partner for peep-show customers. The Doctor (Johnny Garde) wants to coerce her into having a hysterectomy. Chili, another of the fathers (Domingo Ocasio), would like to get back together, at least before he realizes the extent of desperation in Hester's past and present. All of these adults have had sexual contact with Hester in the past and want it again.

The play is a contemporary take on The Scarlet Letter, a clever dimension since Hester is illiterate. Jabber is trying to teach her the alphabet, but so far she can't get past "A" (which means she can't read the slur written on the concrete).

No one would expect a play about illiteracy, racism, poverty and homelessness to be Noel Coward. Its rough edges are there by design as if to jar audiences to the reality of lives ignored. That said, this production starts off weakly and goes downhill from there.

The acting is, for the most part, a one-dimensional presentation of good people who struggle and bad people who exert power. The script is partially at fault. This feels like a sermon, and would be better delivered as such from the pulpit.

But it is still possible to imagine layered characters playing these roles. The doctor, for example, might actually show the conflict his monologue hints at. Garde's doctor is flat as wallpaper.

There is one exception, and that is Erica Sutherlin as Hester. She creates a full and sympathetic character, rendering some beautifully written lines with nuance and precision. Strong as it is, her performance is not enough to save this play.

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

.If you go

In the Blood

The show runs through Feb. 21 at Stageworks Theatre, 1120 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. $30. (813) 374-2416. stageworkstheatre.org.

Review: Stageworks' preachy production of 'In the Blood' feels anemic 02/09/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 9, 2016 2:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 24

    Events

    Zac Brown Band: The country, folk and Southern rockers embark on the "Welcome Home" tour in support of the album. 7 p.m., MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. $27.50-$77.50. (813) 740-2446.

    Handout photo of the Zac Brown Band, performing at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on 9/24/17. Credit: Shore Fire Media
  2. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 23

    Events

    Smithsonian Museum Day Live: Museums across the nation partner with the Smithsonian to offer free admission for one day. Among them are Florida Holocaust Museum, Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs.Cracker Country in Tampa, Ringling Museum of Art. Note: Dalí Museum is free for Pinellas County …

    The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg is among the museums participating in the Smithsonian's Museum Day Live, offering free admission. (LANCE ROTHSTEIN   |  Special to the Times)
  3. Tampa Repertory's 'Flying' soars in some places, sputters in others

    Stage

    TAMPA — Tampa Repertory Theatre has always insisted on putting on plays that mean something. Several shows over the last couple of years have zeroed in on the social and cultural baggage that comes with being female (The Children's Hour, Silent Sky and Grounded come to mind). None of those …

    The Southeastern premiere of Flying, Sheila Cowley's play at Tampa Repertory Theatre about veterans of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots, includes (from left) Holly Marie Weber, Rosemary Orlando, and Becca McCoy. Photo by Megan Lamasney.
  4. After 22 years, it's last call for beloved Ybor venue New World Brewery

    Music & Concerts

    YBOR CITY — Steve Bird spreads his tools across a patio table. He has awnings to unbolt and paraphernalia to unpry, from the busted Bop City neon by the stage to the Simpsons "El Duffo o Muerte" mural in the courtyard. He'll uproot a fountain and dismantle a roof and attempt to keep his bar intact. The …

    Various decor and memorabilia fill the walls and shelves at New World Brewery in Ybor City.
Long time music venue and hangout New World Brewery in Ybor City will be closing it's doors and moving locations. Patrons enjoy one of the last events before New World Brewery changes its location to Busch Blvd in Tampa.  [Photo Luis Santana | Times]