Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

In the Blood
convergence-continuum
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's reviews of The Panther Dancer, Passing Strange and White Guy on the Bus


Daryl Kelly, Shannon Sharkey, Grace Mitri,
Jeannine Gaskin, and Patrick Gladish

Photo by Tom Kondilas
In the very dark and dismal world of Suzan-Lori Parks' In the Blood, Hester, aka "La Negrita" (Jeannine Gaskin) lives on the thin edge of existence. Unable to read or write (except for a crude letter "A" her eldest son has taught her), she lives under a bridge with her five children, who range in age from three to 13 years: Trouble (Patrick Gladish), Jabber (Daryl Kelly), Beauty (Grace Mitri), Bully (Shannon Sharkey), and Baby (Anthony X).

What scant bits of money that makes its way to Hester consists of what her fence Amiga Gringa (Grace Mitri) is able to get from "found" items the children bring her from the street. When they're not playing Artful Dodger to Hester's Fagin the children spend their time amusing themselves with simple games they have made up that require no equipment.

Everyone takes advantage of Hester: the five absent fathers; the kindly street doctor (Patrick Gladish) who is urging her to go in for volunteer sterilization (he also had an affair with Hester); the Welfare Lady (Shannon Sharkey), who participated in a threesome with her husband and Hester; the Reverend D (Anthony X), a man of broken promises and the father of her latest child; and Chilli (Daryl Kelly), who was her first love (and father of her first baby) and became addicted to narcotics and abandoned her. When she confronts those who would take advantage, they continue to do so knowing that "the authorities" will do nothing to stop them. Hester has only one skill and that skill is sex.

The situation has gotten so out of hand that once the family is fed there is no food left for Hester, making her weaker still. While talking to the Welfare Lady she admits that "We was making ends meet alright ... then the ends got further apart." Welfare Lady "bestows" a questionable act of kindness on Hester by giving her some expensive cloth, needle and thread, and a pattern, with the promise of $10—and more if the dress is finished by the next day. Amiga later talks Hester into letting her fence the expensive cloth. In spite of the hardships, Hester refuses offers of work, homeless shelters, and free meals as she hopes that she can "get a leg up" on life and support herself.

In this modern version of a Dickens novel, over and over we hear Hester lament "I been good" as if that should be enough for her to earn a reward, but sadly it is not. Her one short escape from life's drudgery comes when Chilli (who has cleaned himself up and done well in the world) finds her. He believes there is only one child. He dresses Hester in white, gives her an engagement ring (one that you can change the ring size on), and they dance to a recording of a folksy number that first brought them together. This is merely a short reprieve until Chilli is mobbed by "the neighbor's kids: and seeing the writing on the wall abandons her once more, leading to an ending that is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Jeannine Gaskin is convincing as Hester, a woman strong on street smarts but lacking self-control on all other matters. She knows how to work the system just enough to keep her and her brood alive. The actors playing the children do double duty as the adult characters and do so superbly. During their portrayal of children you are convinced of their youth, yet in the next scene they transform in costume and demeanor to adults—exquisite acting on all counts which, combined with the tight direction by Cory Molner, makes this an edge of the seat theatrical experience.

Special note must be made of the scenic design by Scott Zolkowski as convergence-continuum has out done itself once again. Four "steel" structural supports flank the series of interconnected concrete slabs, offset by a high chainlink fence. Expertly painted graffiti graces the background, giving the tight space an air of authenticity. The moody lighting by Cory Molner adds to the depressing atmosphere. Beau Reinker also deserves a mention for his sound design.

While one would hope that this situation is not a reality anywhere in the world, the truth is there are probably more cases like this than we would wish to admit. In the Blood is a morality play that begs us to face the truth and to begin some dialog that would result in the end of such needless suffering. It's not an easy play to watch but one that must be seen.

In the Blood, through June 9, 2018, at convergence-continuum's Liminis Theater, 2438 Scranton Road, in Historic Tremont Village in Cleveland OH. Tickets may be purchased online by going to www.convergence-continuum.org.


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