by Suzan-Lori Parks
Directed by Sophie Gee
November 2 at 8pm
November 5 at 8pm
(Centaur Theatre, C1)
Tickets are $20, $15 for students/seniors, artists or
Pay-What-You-Decide at the door
Tamara Brown as Hester
Anne-Marie Saheb as Canary Mary/Hunter/Waiting Woman
Eric Davis as Mayor/Hunter/Guard
Oliver Koomsatira as Monster/Scribe
Matthew Kabwe as Butcher/Jailbait/Freshly Freed Prisoner
Cat Lemieux as First Lady/Freedom Fund/Hunter
“It’s not that we love what we do, but we do it…”-Hester
As harrowing as it is witty!”
– Ben Brantley, The New York Times
– Raven Snook, Time Out New York
“A fiery, raw-throated shout in the face of
hypocrisy, privilege, and injustice.”
– Sara Holdren, New York Magazine
How does she revision?
Hester Prynne is being led to the scaffold, where she is to be publicly shamed for having committed adultery. Hester is forced to wear the letter A on her gown at all times. She has stitched a large scarlet “A” onto her dress with gold thread, giving the letter an air of elegance. Hester carries Pearl, her daughter, with her. On the scaffold she is asked to reveal the name of Pearl’s father, but she refuses.
Fucking A is inspired by the novel The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850.
The protagonists in both The Scarlet Letter and Fucking A are strong females named Hester with an unwavering love for their illegitimate child. They also both bear the letter “A” as a symbol of how society defines them: the original is branded for adultery, the modern Hester is an abortionist.
The Scarlet Letter is a gothic romance taking place at the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the 17th century, but many of the details in the novel are fictional. Hawthorne’s novel is concerned with the effects of Hester’s affair, using Hester’s public shaming as a catalyst to explore the lingering taboos of Puritan New England in contemporary society. It centres around the life of Hester Prynne, who gives birth to her daughter Pearl after an adulterous affair. Her daughter was born more than nine months after Hester left her husband in England to come to America. As this is the case, the Puritans condemn Hester for her sin of having a child out of wedlock.
Though the Hester plays share a central focus on an oppressed woman, Fucking A has no specific historical grounding. The play is set in “a small town in a small country in the middle of nowhere” and is a dark, mythic and musical fable. The world revealed in the play is bleak and dystopic, a world of unadulterated power, unfair imprisonment and unabashed bloodiness. Fucking A’s world is one where all women’s talk, any mention of sexuality, fertility and women’s bodies, must be spoken in a codified invented language.
Suzan-Lori Parks’ Fucking A is direct, visceral, and compelling.The play offers a contemporary lens on the oppression of women, specifically black women, in a society with seemingly endless cycles of poverty and violence.
Hester Smith, the revered and reviled local abortionist, is condemned to forever soil her apron with the blood from her work in the same way that Mother Courage is condemned to pull her symbolic cart. Nothing will deter Hester from her quest to free her son from his unfair imprisonment. In this wild-eyed blend of story and song, Hester’s branded letter “A” becomes a provocative emblem of vengeance, violence, and sacrifice.
Named among Time magazine’s “100 Innovators for the Next Wave,” Suzan-Lori Parks is one of the most acclaimed playwrights in American drama today. She is the first African-American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, is a MacArthur “Genius” Award recipient, and in 2015 was awarded the prestigious Gish Prize for Excellence in the Arts. Other grants and awards include those from the National Endowment for the Arts, Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts and New York Foundation for the Arts. She is also a recipient of a Lila-Wallace Reader’s Digest Award, a CalArts/Alpert Award in the Arts, and a Guggenheim Foundation Grant. She is an alum of New Dramatists and of Mount Holyoke College.
Parks’ project 365 Days/365 Plays (where she wrote a play a day for an entire year) was produced in over 700 theaters worldwide, creating one of the largest grassroots collaborations in theater history. Her other plays include Topdog/Underdog (2002 Pulitzer Prize winner); The Book of Grace; Unchain My Heart: The Ray Charles Musical; In the Blood (2000 Pulitzer Prize finalist); Venus (1996 OBIE Award); The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World; Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom (1990 OBIE Award, Best New American Play) ; The America Play and Fucking A. Her adaptation of The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. Her newest plays, Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)—set during the Civil War—was awarded the Horton Foote Prize, the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama as well as being a 2015 Pulitzer Prize Finalist.
Parks has written numerous screenplays including Girl 6 for Spike Lee, and she adapted Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God for ABC Television’s Oprah Winfrey Presents. Other work in film includes Anemone Me (produced by Christine Vachon & Todd Haynes). She is currently developing an original series for Amazon.
Suzan-Lori teaches at New York University, and serves at the Public Theater as its Master Writer Chair. She credits her mentor James Baldwin for starting her on the path of playwriting. One of the first to recognize Parks’ writing skills, Mr. Baldwin declared Parks “an astonishing and beautiful creature who may become one of the most valuable artists of our time.”
Director Sophie Gee on Fucking A
Women here are reduced to their usefulness vis-à-vis the folds of flesh in between their legs: as reproducer, as cum-bucket, as abortionist. For playing these positions, they are shamed, censored, forbidden to use English to talk about their sexual parts. They must instead use a women’s language called,“TALK”. In this world, power clearly lies in the hands of the male – the rich male. Not even wealth saves First Lady from the possibility of being killed off.
But it’s not just women who are repressed here. Parks shows how easily poverty traps people in an unending spiral of crime. And in addition to male and rich, let’s add another essential ingredient for power: white. Parks doesn’t indicate the colours of the characters but Hester’s A is a clear reminder of the brutal act of slave branding. As Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative commented, “Slavery wasn’t abolished in 1865; I think it evolved.” The world of Fucking A shows what slavery has evolved into.
Hester and her friends live such precarious existences. There’s very little safety and the little solaces they find, in this place where loving anything is hard, they hold on to. What breaks my heart are the small moments of tenderness they manage to find together. These small refuges: a drink with a friend, another lonely soul to sleep with, a final act of motherly love. With the decks stacked so high against them, Hester and her friends do the best they can. They accept. They don’t fight. Perhaps they have already tried fighting and it got them nowhere. Perhaps the system is too strong. Most likely they are exhausted.
We know that living in the time of 45 has made the world of Fucking A even more recognizable. The Her Side of the Story festival is about resistance. There’s more of us than there are of them. And if you have some kind of power, (come on, we are at the theatre, so we obviously have some comfort in our lives) let’s try to bring these structures down.
Let’s make this a call to action.