When Suzan-Lori Parks decided to write a play based on The Scarlet Letter, she began with the title: Fucking A. Unimpressed, she deleted everything she had and started from scratch, writing the play that would eventually become In the Blood. As Parks tells it, In the Blood had to come out before Fucking A would crystallize; she calls the plays “twins in the womb of my consciousness.” With both in revival at Signature Theatre, audiences have the chance to view Parks’ twins side by side. The plays are riffs on the theme of our duty to one another, colliding with and speaking to each other in a jazzy feedback loop. If In the Blood ends up the less viable of the pair, it still makes for a fascinating examination of the state the nation from a singular American voice.
Suzan-Lori Parks’s plays always speak their own language, but in 2000’s Fucking A the playwright one-upped herself. The women of the play have developed their own semi-secret language called TALK that allows them to hide in plain sight among callous men. It’s as beautiful and elegant an illustration of female solidarity as any in Parks’s work, and indicative of her gift for fashioning skewed worlds that make us see our own world anew. She doesn’t so much pull back the curtain as shoot it through the back wall.
Signature Theatre, known for year-long retrospectives of the careers of living playwrights, is offering a sensory rich revival of The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA The Negro Book of the Dead by Suzan-Lori Parks. This 1990 work from the writer whose Topdog/Underdog won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2002 exists at the crossroads of theater and lyric poetry.