The Play

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In the Blood comprises nine scenes and a prologue, with an intermission between scenes 4 and 5. In the prologue, introducing the convention of the cast as Greek chorus, the group accosts the audience with accusations and epithets hurled at an unseen woman, as sounds of a difficult birthing are heard. As the chorus parts “like the Red Sea would,” Hester, La Negrita, is discovered, holding a newborn baby that she raises toward the sky, proclaiming it her treasure, as the group spits in contempt. In the prologue, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks sets the tone for the play that is to follow, a no-holds-barred assault on the political, medical, capitalistic, and religious systems that define the American ideal.

Scene 1, “Under the Bridge,” clarifies the nature of the world in which Hester and her five children live. It is two years after the prologue, and her children, Jabber, Bully, Trouble, Beauty, and Baby, clamor for her time and attention. She feeds her “treasures” soup, eating none herself. The word “Slut” has been scrawled by unknown vandals on the wall of a bridge the family calls home. Jabber, the one character who knows how to read, refuses to pronounce the word, choosing instead to erase it, making room on the wall for Hester to practice drawing the only letter she knows, an “A.” After eating and readying for bed, Hester tells the children a fairy tale of a princess with five lovers, each of whom gives her a treasure, her five joys.

In scene 2, “Street Practice”; scene 3, “The Reverend on his Soapbox”; and scene 4, “With the Welfare,” Hester’s bleak life is firmly defined when she first encounters the Doctor, an itinerant quack who carries his supplies on his back and his calling on a sandwich board. His solution to her dilemma, including her hunger-induced stomach pains, is to remove her reproductive organs, or, in his words, to “spay” her. Hester seeks out Reverend D., a preacher who uses whatever he can lay his hands on to enhance his personal well-being. Through five “confessionals,” moments of direct address during which the characters relate to the audience their personal encounters with Hester, it is revealed that the Doctor and...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Anderson, Lisa M. “Battling Images: Suzan-Lori Parks and Black Iconicity.” In Black Feminism in Contemporary Drama. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008. Discusses Parks’s work as engaged in disrupting visual stereotypes of African Americans.

Cole, Susan Letzler. Playwrights in Rehearsal: The Seduction of Company. New York: Routledge, 2001. Discusses the rehearsal process for the original production of In the Blood and its influence on the evolution of the play.

Haring-Smith, Tori. “Dramaturging Non-realism: Creating a New Vocabulary.” Theatre Topics 13, no. 1 (2003): 45-54. Discusses the process of working with non-realistic theatrical elements in the plays of Parks and Caryl Churchill.

Parks, Suzan-Lori, et al. “Where Do Plays Come From? A Conference of Women Playwrights.” In Women in American Theatre, edited by Helen Krich Chinoy and Linda Walsh Jenkins. Rev. and expanded 3d ed. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2006. Parks participates in a roundtable discussion with six other playwrights, including Emily Mann and Wendy Wasserstein.

Wetmore, Kevin J., Jr., and Alicia Smith-Howard. Suzan-Lori Parks: A Casebook. New York: Routledge, 2007. Includes an article comparing the uses of the chorus in In the Blood and Venus (pr. 1996, pb. 1997), as well as a detailed study of the role of language in In the Blood.