In the Blood | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

In the Blood 

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In the Blood, Circle Theatre. Director Michael Matthews's admirable production of Suzan-Lori Parks's saga of a homeless welfare mother provides a fine opportunity to see just how empty this much praised play really is. Unlike Lisa Portes, who staged it at Next Theatre last February in broad, almost cartoonish strokes, Matthews scales everything back to human size--no mean feat given Parks's penchant for overstatement. Her protagonist, Hester La Negrita, lives with her five children under a highway underpass. She's occasionally accosted by a pill-popping, oversexed public-health doctor who insists she be "spayed"; a condescending, oversexed welfare worker who imagines Hester's greatest need to be a lesson in manners; and a hypocritical, oversexed preacher who sired her youngest child, then vanished. In case you don't get the point that authority figures fuck over the poor, each is given a dramatically irrelevant monologue to confess his or her sexual tryst with Hester.

Although Matthews honors many of the script's stylized aspects-- opening and closing the show with a quasi-liturgical chant--he does his best to access the workings of Parks's two-dimensional characters. The cast is largely up to the challenge, with especially affecting performances from Inda Craig-Galvan as Hester and Chris Zumwalt as both her oldest son, Jabber, and his creepy/goofy father, Chilli. But Parks's simple theatrics and facile politics prevent even these noble efforts from coalescing into anything that might be mistaken for human life.


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