Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

In the Blood

Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill
Review by Rob Spiegel

Designed by Russell Maynor
Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks has noted that she borrowed many aspects of her play In the Blood from Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter." The obvious tie to that novel is the drastic price of sexual freedom. For the women of early New England in "The Scarlet Letter," the price was wearing the red letter "A" for adultery. The price the main character of In the Blood pays for having five children from five different men, all outside of marriage, is to become an outcast in utter poverty. While the streets of a modern city are far from the Massachusetts Bay Colony of the 17th century, Parks suggests the ostracization and social rejection bear similarities.

Parks further cements her play's connection Hawthorne's work by using similar character names. Instead of Hester Prynne, as in the novel, it's Hester La Negrita (Angela Littleton) in the play. Instead of Reverend Dimmesdale, it's Reverend D (Darryl DeLoach). The play was well received when it appeared 1999, and it a Pulitzer Prize finalist. (Parks subsequently won the Pulitzer in 2002 for her play Topdog/Underdog.)

This is the second Aux Dog production in a row to depict the suffering inherent in Hawthorne's story. In September, the theatre presented Phyllis Nagy's 1994 adaptation of The Scarlet Letter. In the program notes, Aux Dog Artistic Director Victoria J. Liberatori notes that she ran these plays back-to-back because she was intrigued by how closely [the two plays'] themes mirrored the #MeToo movement that is rapidly spreading across the globe.</p>

Interesting take, that "The Scarlet Letter" is relevant again in the era of #MeToo. Hopefully, the #MeToo movement is the beginning of a voice strong enough to counter—at least somewhat—the sexual oppression of women. But Hester's story is not a story of hope. During the action of In the Blood, Heater is raising her five children (she calls them her five mistakes) on the streets of an unnamed city. Her only friend is Amiga Gringa (Michelle Varela), a streetwalker. She lives from hand-to-mouth, collecting aluminum cans to feed her children while she herself suffers hunger pangs.

Each of the actors who play Hester's children does double duty playing an adult in Hester’s life: The Doctor (Alex Prince), Reverend D (Deloach), Amiga (Varela), the Welfare Lady (Charlene Fox), and Chilli (Savon J. Salters), the only man Hester loves. Each of these adults ends up bringing more misery to Hester. None helps her. She’s not even able to help herself. The only hope in her life—to find and connect again with Chilli—is dashed when he appears and is repulsed by all her children.

The play takes us from a state of hopelessness to an even lower state, whatever that's called. It's a rough and dreary ride. Hester seems to lack any personal wherewithal, as though some unnamed development issue is part of her misery.

The redeeming aspect of the production is the powerful performance by Littleton as Hester. Littleton is always terrific. She has shown quite a range in the characters she has previously played, easily moving from Berenice, the country housekeeper in The Member of the Wedding, to Jory, the sophisticated urban attorney in Disgraced. As Hester, she's magnificent. It's great to see her in a role where she's the center of the drama. She carries it with great strength. All of the supporting actors do a nice job, especially with the difficult task of shifting back and forth from children to adults. DeLoach's performance as a two-year-old squashing aluminum cans in the opening scene is priceless.

The production is co-directed by Linda Piper and Alexandra Buresch (who does double duty as costume designer). They keep the action moving smoothly, which is quite a task given this dark material that seems to want to bog down. There is also beautiful set design by Jonathan Whitney. The entire production team does a wonderful job.

In the Blood, through December 16, 2018, at Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill, 3011-3015 Monte Vista Blvd, NE, Albuquerque NM. The theatre will be dark during the Thanksgiving weekend. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm. General admission is $22. ATG members, service members, and seniors are $19. Students are $12. Those under 35 can receive two tickets for $22. Reserve tickets at or by calling 254-7716.