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Minneapolis by Elizabeth Weir

Frank Theatre puts on an A-Grade Fucking A at abandoned A Mill

Also see Elizabeth's review of Humble Boy

Fucking ACombine Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks with Frank Theatre’s iconoclast artistic director, mount their work in an abandoned mill on Minneapolis’ downtown riverfront, add a creative production team and an excellent lead, and you’ve got electrifying theater that sets you laughing, even as it invites you to weep.

Frank Theatre’s two and a half hour tragedy and part musical, Fucking A, starts slow but gains unstoppable momentum. I could hardly bear to breathe as revenge propelled it to a fateful end.

Fucking A looks unblinkingly at power and powerlessness that is defined by gender and by class within race.

Park’s Fucking A takes its cue from Hawthorne’s "The Scarlet Letter," and has overtones of Toni Morrison’s "Beloved." Hester is an abortionist. She has an "A" branded above her left breast, and she must display her brand at all times. She was given the choice of imprisonment or this job. She chose the job, planning to save up and buy access to her imprisoned son. Thirty years ago, Hester’s hungry child was imprisoned for stealing food from their rich employer. Hester lives in an undefined tin-pot dictatorship, in a town with a tin-pot dictator mayor whose seed will govern forever. Her friend, Canary Mary, is a prostitute whose exclusive rights are owned by the mayor. This is a place where hunters torture their convict quarries and roam unchecked. When the barren mayor’s wife conceives, the butcher falls in love, and a convict escapes, Fucking A spirals towards its desperate close.

In magnetic playing, slight Shå Cage holds the stage in the lead role as Hester. She imbues Hester with simplicity and the tough dignity of a survivor in an unlivable reality. Hester lives on hope. Sadness has seeped into her bones, but the goal of seeing her imprisoned son keeps her going. The hard-bought picnic scene, right before intermission, left me gasping. Hester will prove to be a defining role for Cage.

She is supported by a strong and versatile cast. Under Knox’s go-for-it direction, they double up roles and, when necessary, women play men and men play women. Particularly appealing is Gregory Stewart Smith as the sweet-natured butcher. He whips out an amazing litany of his wayward daughter’s wrongs that reveals more about the authoritarian regime in which he lives than about his daughter.

Emil Herrera puffs himself up as the mayor and gives an amusing speech about viewing his sperm under a microscope and seeing them as a ready army of little men. Christiana Clark plays his rich but unhappy wife, and Maria Asp, his kept woman. Ann Kim plays four roles, and is fine in each, but is strongest as the corrupt Freedom Fund woman who cheats Hester. As animal Jailbait, Dana Munson horrifies, and game Gary Keast plays three small roles, including a knocked-up woman. Retrievers, Moe and Gus, round out the cast as killer dogs but haven’t read their lines - they wag and smile throughout.

There isn’t much singing in Fucking A, and I am guessing that Knox did not choose her actors for their singing voices. But the songs gain pathos in this context from being sung by workaday voices. One male voice soared in the song, "Hard Times."

Last year, Knox played vigorous theater in a derelict warehouse; this year, she found the A Mill machine shop. The space lends itself to Park’s play, and Knox and set designer John Bueche have done a great job in adapting the gritty space. Caged catwalks line the upper space, and Knox incorporates these into the prison scene. For a park on a high hill, Bueche constructed a raised platform, like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Lower down, Hester and company live in a shanty town of thrown-together remnants of corrugated tin, wooden slats, an old car seat and a swag of red cloth.

Under tricky conditions, adaptable Michael Kittel makes the lighting look seamless, and Michael Croswell and Marya Hart play onstage music. Video projections, positioned too high above the action, interpret the women’s bawdy "talk" in local dialect.

Knox has wrapped the A Mill machine shop in plastic to retain warmth. Do not miss Shå Cage in Frank Theatre’s riveting and provocative Fucking A, but if it turns cold, make sure you bring a good coat with you.

Fucking A October 21 – November 14, 2004. Thursdays – Saturdays 8:00 p.m. Sundays – 2:00 p.m. (Panel discussions after Sunday performances.) $18 - $20. Frank Theatre, The Old Pillsbury machine Shop at the A Mill, 300, S.E. 2nd Street, near St. Anthony Main. Tickets: 612-7243760. www.franktheatre.org.


Photo: Tony Nelson



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Elizabeth Weir



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