Fells Point Corner Theatre is attempting a daring and difficult work with their current production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ In The Blood. Daring in its stark and intense look into the realities of people experiencing homelessness, and difficult to effectively execute the Aristotelian structured script. In The Blood gives us characters, events, and themes as epic and sprawling as masterpieces of Medea or Mother Courage and Her Children, and demands to be presented with passion, specificity, and vision. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
In The Blood concerns single mother Hester who is currently experiencing homelessness with her five children, Jabber, Baby, Bully, Trouble, and Beauty. We see her strive to provide for her children, often sacrificing her own needs in order to do so. She begins a journey to seek assistance from the five fathers of her five children. She encounters Reverend D, The Welfare Lady, The Doctor, Amiga Gringa, and Chili who we find are all either one of the fathers, or, in the case of Amiga and The Welfare Lady, directly connected to one of the fathers. We discover that each of the people who should have been Hester’s connection to society and survival have actually been exploiting her. All of these realizations build upon each other culminating in Hester committing an act of violence in the tradition of all tragic Greek heroes.
A powerful script that is beautifully constructed with stunningly precise language and characters, the text alone could potentially be worth the price of admission. Unfortunately, the production is not able to match the script with equal amounts of precision and skill.
Where the show suffers the most is from the direction, or lack thereof. There wasn’t a single scene that wasn’t riddled with missed opportunities. Jokes that didn’t land, lines that revealed aspects of character that were just brushed over, pacing that seemed to contradict the intentions of the scenes. Director Mari Andrea Travis didn’t make any poor directorial choices necessarily, but rather seemed to never attempt to make any choices to elevate the script at all. Bland is the best word I can think of to describe the directing. What makes this especially disappointing is that director Mari Andrea Travis assembled a brilliant ensemble that was clearly quite talented. With an astounding script and an unquestionably talented ensemble, Travis had all the ingredients to put on what could have been the best show in town this season, but just never seemed to put the pieces together in any meaningful or interesting way.
Across the board, the ensemble (Christian Gonzalez, Justin Price, Tina Canady, Adam Cooley, and Betse Lyons) clearly execute what was asked of them with skill. However since it seemed as though they were never asked to push deeper, there was a general lack of connection between them as actors and their characters. It’s important to note that they all seemed like they were on the right track in terms of character choices, it just felt like watching a show a week and a half away from opening. It was a talented cast that seemed to not have the resources or time to be able to reach their full potential.
If there is one element that glues this production together it is Dawn Taylor’s performance as Hester. Although it is by no means the masterclass performance it could be, Taylor exposes Hester with a quiet vulnerability that is very easy to engage with. Whether she had the physical and emotional nuance and complexity the character demands is debatable, (in her defense it is an absolute mammoth of a role), but she still leads each moment with her heart on her sleeve. Taylor’s vulnerable performance is what kept me engaged throughout the entire show.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? The show is not explicitly bad, but it’s not explicitly good either. Because of its abundance of missed opportunities and lack of directorial style, I walked away thinking that I would have had the same response just reading the script at home that I did actually seeing this production. It’s a great script, with a hard-working cast, and an important story, but it doesn’t live up to its potential. (B)
Running through November 3rd at Fells Point Corner Theater.