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Killing Pearl: When Hester Chooses Infanticide Confronting Motherhood and the Redemptive Fantasy of The Scarlet Letter In Suzan-Lori Parkss The Red Letter Plays BY Alison Reid A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida In Partial Fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the Sponsorship of Dr. Nova Myhill Sarasota, Florida May, 2009
Reid ii For my sister, Kelly. Because I can always trust you to save the day.
Reid iii A cknowledgments First I would like to thank Pr ofessor Myhill, who sponsored this thesis and guided me through my years at New College. I would also like to thank Professor Cuomo and Professo r Dimino, whose classes have inspired this research. Thank you for investi ng your energy into this project at such a busy time of year. I would especially like to thank the cast of Fucking A: Dayna Lazarus Sarah Gregory Alex Cline Myranda Pierce Patrick Young Jasmine Crenshaw Becca Furlow Rose Marz Kirsten Wood Nathan Howell You guys were amazing. I could never say that enough times. A special thanks to Susanna Payne-Passmor e, who played piano, taught everyone their music and showed unending enthusiasm for my thesis play. In retrospect, I genuinely dont think I could have done it without her. Lastly I would like to thank my parents, my sister, and Alex who endured many a panicked January phone call. Thanks for le tting me yell in your general direction.
Reid iv Table of Contents Dedication ..................................................................................................................ii Acknowledgm ents ......................................................................................................iii Table of Contents.......................................................................................................iv Abstract......................................................................................................................v Introduction: Infanticide a nd the Unnatural Mother..................................................1 Chapter One: The Slave Narrative in The Red Letter Plays ......................................15 Chapter Two: Staging Fucking ACreating a Society Neither Here nor Now... 40 Conclusion.................................................................................................................75 Works Cited...............................................................................................................78 Selected Works Consulted.........................................................................................82 Appendix A: Summary of Scenes in Fucking A........................................................ 85 Appendix B: List of Songs from Fucking A..............................................................98 Appendix C: Fucking A Program..............................................................................99 Appendix D: Advertising Campaign for Fucking A.................................................. 101
Reid v Killing Pearl: When Hester Chooses Infanticide Confronting Motherhood and the Redemptive Fantasy of The Scarlet Letter In Suzan-Lori Parkss The Red Letter Plays Alison Reid New College of Florida Abstract Nathaniel Hawthornes Hester Prynne en forces the faulty notion of the good mother and the redemptive fantasy when she chooses not to kill Pearl in The Scarlet Letter. Socially and culturally, infanticide i nvokes a highly emotional response. The media deals with this respons e by constructing models of the "murderous mother" to rationalize the actions of women such as Andrea Yates and Casey Anthony. These models depend on a specific model of motherhood in which only the unnatural mother kills her child. Within the slave narrative, ther e are examples of empathetic infanticide in which a mother kills her child due to the problems of society ra ther than as a rejection of motherhood. In The Red Letter Plays, Suzan-Lori Parks has created two new Hesters who are branded by their society and suffer c onditions similar to the American slave plantation. In each of Parkss plays, a new He ster suffers and kills her child due to the unnatural conditions of the world. Based on my research I have concluded that Parks uses the myth of Hester Prynne as the br anded woman and good mother to subvert the redemptive fantasy of The Scarlet Letter This project includes two chapters and a production of Parks's Fucking A which was staged in College Hall in January 2009. ______________________________ Nova Myhill Division of Humanities
Reid 1 Introduction Infanticide and the Unnatural Mother In Nathaniel Hawthornes The Scarlet Letter Hester Prynne ponders killing her daughter for only a moment. To the reader, this moment is brief and the heroine of the novel continues on her course towards redemption without further delay. This moment is fascinating because it presents Hester Prynne with a choice. By choosing to reject infanticide, Hester accepts her maternal responsibilities and claims her place as an American literary icon. If Hester chose infanticide, she could not be the icon of American motherhood. In The Red Letter Plays, Suzan-Lori Parks has created two very different Hesters based on Hester Prynne s brief contemplation of infanticide. In these appropriations of The Scarlet Letter there is no possibility of redemption for these Hesters because their brands are not embroidered onto fabr ic. Their brands cannot be removed and their meanings cannot be change d. The injustice of th e world of the play then forces each Hester to choose infanticide. Yet, for Parkss Hesters, infanticide is an element of motherhood rather than a rejection of maternal responsibility. In Chapter One I will argue that in Fucking A and In the Blood, the two plays which make up The Red Letter Plays,1 the scenario of infanticide is very similar to the slave narrative presented in Toni Morrisons Beloved. In this novel, Sethe kills her child in order to protect her from the cruelty of slavery. The world of each of Pa rkss plays features elements of the slave narrative which provoke each Hester to kill her child. By placing a character named 1 In the Blood was first staged in 1999 and Fucking A was later staged in 2000. Both are full-length plays and are not performed at the same time. I will frequently deal with them as The Red Letter Plays when broad themes overlap in the two work s. But, I will not be discussing th e way these plays would be received and compared because an audience would only be viewing one production.
Reid 2 Hester into the conditions of slavery, Park s challenges the notion of infanticide as a rejection of motherhood. In Chap ter One I explore the elem ents of the slave narrative and Parkss confrontation of history in these plays. I incorporated this c onfrontation of history into a metadramatic production of Fucking A,2 which was staged in January 2009. Chapter Two further describes the decisions I made as director of this play. While The Red Letter Plays are clearly interested in Hawthornes novel, Parks frequently reminds journalists that these play s are meant to be riffs on the American classic rather than adaptations (Carr 1). Using this seemingly casual relationship as a guide, I set forth to compare Hesters mo therhood as established by Hawthorne and by Parks in these two very different works. Rather than adapting specific moments of The Scarlet Letter, Parks uses what the general American public knows about Hester Prynne and her torment as a branded woman in a Pu ritan community. Hesters journey towards redemption begins with the iconic image of a mother and illegitima te child standing on a scaffold before the town. The Scarlet Letter is obsessed with the transformation of Hesters A from meaning adultery to ab le. While Reverend Dimmesdale collapses and dies from the weight of his own guilt, th e novel would have the reader believe that Hester triumphs because she has a child to ca re for: Alone in the world, cast off by it, and with this sole treasure to keep her heart alive, she felt that she possessed indefeasible rights against the world, and was ready to de fend them to the death (Hawthorne 77). Hester is portrayed with di gnity and poise in Hawthornes poetic description of her struggle on the scaffold. But, Hester loses her poise and her self cont rol when she wildly defends her right to motherhood when the magistra te tells her, It is because of the stain which that letter indicates, that we would tran sfer thy child to othe r hands (76). Hester 2 DVD included.
Reid 3 fights so passionately for her righ t to mo therhood because being a good mother is her path to redemption. Once Reverend Dimmesdale speaks on her be half, the magistrate allows Hester Prynne to keep her daughter. He argues that this boon was meant, above all things else, to keep the mothers soul alive, and to preser ve her from blacker dept hs of sin into which Satan might else have sought to plunge her (78)! Although Hester succeeds, she admits to Mistress Hibbons: Had they taken her from me, I would willingly have gone with thee into the forest, and signed my name in th e Black Mans book too, and that with mine own blood (80)! Hesters sense of maternal respon sibility literally saves her from the flames of hell. Although motherhood saves Hester from damnation, there is a moment in which she considers killing Pearl: At times, a fear ful doubt strove to possess her soul, whether it were not better to send Pearl at once to heaven, and go herself to such futurity as Eternal Justice should provide (114). This murderous thought proceeds directly out of the dark labyrinth of mind in which Hest er has wandered during her seven years of ostracism from the Puritan community (Per son 33). Social conditions almost force Hester Prynne to kill Pearl, but she overcomes the ostracism of her town and remains a good mother. The social conditions in Fucking A and In the Blood cannot be overcome with sheer willpower. In Fucking A, Hester Smiths brand is not an embroidered A, whose meaning can be reinterpreted by the community. Instead, this Hester is branded as an Abortionist, with a stin king, weeping A burned into her chest (Parks, Red Letter Plays 125). When Hester Smiths son, Boy, is se nt to prison for stealing as a child, she takes this profession as a way to make money to pay the Freedom Fund for her sons
Reid 4 release. Hester Prynne is praised by the narr ator f or finding a place in the community, but as the towns Abortionist, Hester Smith is subj ect to ridicule. She is never able to raise enough money and after thirty years in jail Boy has transformed into Monster, a hardened criminal. Rather than blame the injustice of the system which has imprisoned her son, Hester focuses her hatred on Rich Girl the child who turned her son in for theft. Monster escapes from prison and unknowingl y seduces the Rich Girl, who has since become First Lady, wife of the Mayor. When He ster is finally able to afford a picnic lunch with her son, she is met by another pr isoner, named Jailbait, who rapes her after claiming to have killed Monster. Convinced her son is dead, Hester focuses all her rage at First Lady. During the course of the second ac t, Hesters focus on revenge convinces her to reject the possibility fo r a happy ending when she ignores Butchers marriage proposal. Her blind rage then causes Hester to not r ecognize Monster when he comes to her door. Hester achieves her revenge when she a borts First Ladys child, unknowingly aborting her own grandchild. In the final moments of th e play, Hester recognizes her son, but he is followed by the Hunters. These bounty hunters a pproach Hesters door hoping to torture Monster to death and then turn his head in for a reward. Under these horrific conditions, Hester Smith is given no other option but to kill her son to save him from a more gruesome death.3 After his body is hauled off stage, Hester returns to work, unable to shed the brand in her flesh. In The Scarlet Letter, Pearl is frequently described as a personification of Hester Prynnes brand. It was the scarlet letter in a nother form; the scarlet letter endowed with 3 Although Monster is an adult when Hester Smith kills him, I still consider this infanticide. Because Hester has not seen her son in thirty years, Hester kills her hopes of being reunited with Boy rather than the adult her son has grown into. Within this paper, I use the term infanticide to include any child, not exclusively infants.
Reid 5 life (Hawthorne 70)! In this way, Pearl functions as an extension of Hester Prynnes brand. Hester La Negrita of In the Blood is branded by her five illegitim ate children. The town sees Pearl as an embodiment of Hester Prynnes brand, but th ey still feel enough pity for the child to consider taking her to be raised by a more responsible parent. The chorus of In the Blood call Hester La Negritas children brats and spit at her repeatedly (Parks, Red Letter Plays 6). They call her JUST PLAIN STUPID IF YOU ASK ME AINT NO SMART WOMAN GOT 5 BAST ARDS AND NOT A PENNY TO HER NAME (7). Fucking A adapts Hester Prynnes brand, but discards the story that goes along with it. Other than the A worn by both Hester Prynne and Hester Smith, their stories have no action in comm on. Hester La Negrita is branded for her illegitimate children, and her story relates more closely to Hawthornes novel. But, while Hester Prynne has the skill to make a living off of embroidery and inde pendently care for her daughter, Hester La Negrita is so burdened by her children that she lives with them on the street under a bridge. Hester La Negrita is illiterate, unemp loyed and unable to take care of her children. Throughout the course of the pl ay, Hester La Negrita is approached by five people who are from institutions who shoul d help her, but do not. Amiga Gringa is a prostitute and fellow mother who steals from her. The Doctor examines her when she complains of hunger pains and prescribes st erilization. The Welf are Lady gives her a dress to sew, but does not teach her to thr ead a needle. The Reverend D. claims to be collecting money on her behalf in his church, but instead requests oral sex in an alley. Finally, Hester La Negritas t eenage love, Chilli, returns to marry her, but abandons her when he realizes she has had four more ch ildren since carrying his illegitimate child. Through a series of confessions, each charac ter reveals that they are responsible for
Reid 6 fathering on e of the illegitimate children fo r which they condemn Hester. The three male confessors take advantage of Hesters l oneliness and desire fo r physical contact and impregnate her. Amiga Gringa and Hester had sex with each other before a paying audience until a viewer raped Hester. Welfar e Lady invited Hester to have a threesome with her and her husband. All five, incl uding Amiga Gringa and Welfare Lady, are directly responsible for Hester La Negritas illegitimate children. Despite her sexual exploitati on, Hester La Negrita continues to struggle for her leg up in order to feed her children. Wh en Chilli abandons her, she realizes she cannot take care of her children in this world of in justices. At the beginning of the play, slut is scrawled on the bridge in graff iti, but Hester is illiterate a nd asks her oldest son, Jabber to read it to her. He knows the word but chooses to protect his mother by claiming to have never seen the word before. At the conclusion of the play, Jabber admits that he knows what the world thinks of his mother. He proudly repeats the word slut, not knowing that his mother no longer hopes to save her family. Hester La Negr ita then bludgeons her oldest son to death. Hester Prynne chooses not to kill her daughter and as a result she changes the meaning of her bra nd to Able. Hester La Negrit a does not have the abilities to escape illiteracy and starvation. Her own children and the institutions who refuse to help her make her unable to mother. When Hester La Negrita and Hester Smith kill their sons, they do so because they exist in an unnatural world, not because they are unnatural mothers. Parks uses infanticide as a lens throu gh which to examine motherhood. In order to fully understand the way infanticide reinterpre ts the popular conception of the natural mother, I investigated cultura l examples of mother s who kill their children. Infanticide is
Reid 7 a difficult su bject in society and in literatu re because it comes with extreme emotional implications. Catharine Stimpson describes the exceptional aversion to this discussion felt by the public in her article Do these D eaths Surpass Understanding?: The Literary Figure of the Mother Who Murders. Stimpson us es literary and historical examples of infanticide to demonstrate the difficulty of giving the woman who kills her child a fair trial. She explains that to society it would seem that a woman has killed the weakest member of the community. The mother who s hould have been the childs lifeline cannot be trusted because she has reje cted her instinct to protec t her child (Stimpson 3). The murderous mother is also particularly haun ting because she was once part of the social norm (3). She had fulfilled her sacred duty by creating a child, but she then crossed the boundary in a gesture most people cannot understand, and would not attempt to sympathize with. Stimpson argues that this em otional response compromises the ability of a jury to judge a case of infanticide. Recent discussions of infanticide such as those presented by Stimpson and Barbara Barnett propose new questions to ask in situations of infanticide encountered through the news or in the courtroom. In M edea in the Media, Ba rnett discusses recent examples of infanticide in the United States and how these cases were filtered through the media. Her research reveals a model used with shocking cons istency to explain murderous mothers4 to the public. Barnett argues that journalists rely on familiar scripts to tell their stories (412). According to th is model, there are two kinds of women who kill their children. One model is of the lazy and negligent mother who allows her child to 4 I use Verna Fosters terms nurturing mother and murderous mother throughout this discussion. Although I do not entirely agree with her arguments, these titles appropriately describe the perceived transition between the natural an d unnatural mother which take s place due to infanticide.
Reid 8 die while shirking her ow n responsibilities as car egiver. This is a model fully exploited in the recent case of Casey Anthony in Orlando, Florida. Anthonys daughter, Caylee, was reported missing this summer and her remains were found this December. Although no facts are certain at this point, The National Enquirer has already concluded that Caylee was cruelly murdered by a hard-partying mo ther to whom she had become a burden (Wright 30). The magazine cites evidence su ch as Anthonys new boyfriend, who did not want children. The National Enquirer has also since found a fr iend of Anthony to tell the story of a mother who was alwa ys neglectful of her daughter. Kiomarie [a friend of Casey Anthony] reveals a key piece of information that the prosecution could use to establish motive: Casey never wanted Caylee. In fact, when she was pregnant, she agreed to give up the baby to Kiomarie to adopt but Caseys mom hated the idea and the plan was dropped. (31) To the popular conception of motherhood, a woman who does not want a child is equivalent to a woman who would kill a child. Also, a jury could see giving up a child as a way of shirking responsibility. According to this model, a woman cannot acknowledge her own shortcomings as a mother by aski ng for help. As of Ap ril 2009, the prosecution intends to enter photos from Anthonys Phot obucket account as evidence that she was an irresponsible mother (see Fig. 1). There ar e hundreds of photos such as this example which show Anthony out with friends and without her daughter. Based on these photos, the prosecution intends to argue Anthony spen t too much time partying to have been a good mother.
Reid 9 Figure 1: Image from Casey Anthonys Photobucket account. Source: Orlando Sentinel. March 2, 2009 The second model used by journalists to explain the murderous mother receives far more publicity. This model is of the good mother who is somehow transformed into a murderer, usually by the real or imagined infl uence of the devil (Bar nett 411). This is the case with Andrea Yates, a woman who drowned her five children in her bathtub in 2001 in order to protect them from the devil (O Malley 118). Popular media is obsessed with this transition from caretaker to murder er, and Yatess case ha s been retold through journalism and various made-for-TV movies. Writers struggle to explain this gruesome act of violence, and Barnett argues that these journalists frequently use this model to explain the inexplicable. She points out the fl aw in repeatedly confining reality to a specific model. Journalists then fail to question other conditi ons which led to infanticide, such as social pressure. Both of these models of the failed mother depend on perpetuating the myth of the perfect mother (Barnett 412). These models explain the murderous mother as being unnatural rather than questioning the conditions which may be to
Reid 10 blam e. By ignoring circumstances such as ra ce, class and sexual or ientation, journalists suggest a universal experi ence of motherhood (412). Stimpson is also especially interested in the supposed transition from nurturing mother to murderous mother. Stimpson points out that part of the shock value of the mother who kills is that she is initially pa rt of society. Susanna Bosch argues that the responsibility to bear children is part of a flawed cons truction of womanhood in which women can only find their identity and personal independence by giving birth to children (Bosch 13). She attributes this construction of womanhood to the requirement to procreate in society for the good of the community. Society, however, often tends to stress that every female has the responsibil ity to accept motherhood as a natural law since women are biologically capable of bearing children (13). The murderous mother then rejects this accomplishment a nd requirement by killing her own offspring. This act of violence makes her an unnatural mother and an unnatural woman. Phyllis Cheslers Womans Inhumanity to Woman argues against the popular conception of female aggressi on and violence as unnatural. Chesler disproves the belief that women are less aggressive than men. She explains that women are perceived as less aggressive because displays of male aggres sion are so common and spectacular, such as sexual violence or war (35). Female aggr ession relies heavily on covert emotional warfare rather than displays of violence (37). Because male aggression is both so visibl e and so deadly, it tends to obscure our view of female aggression, which is sub tle, less visible, but chronic. Femalefemale violence has, erroneously been d eemed unimportant because it is unlikely to result in someones immediate death or physical injury. (35)
Reid 11 Fe male to female violence depends on the ma ternal aspects of women. They maternally enchantthen terrorize or turn upon each other (37). Women who lash out with physical violence rather than emotional are believed to lack self control: To some extent, studies suggest that men are in control when they use violence and women are not (39). If the murderous mother is out of control, then she lashes out like a wild animal. This uncontrollable animalistic urge is used to expl ain the theory of the transformed mother presented by Barnett. Both models of the murderous mother ar e favored because they provide a small comfort to the public. These women can be distanced from society because the negligent mother and the insane mother are unnatu ral and do not evoke empathy. The public can deal with these characters from a distance without considering what conditions provoke infanticide. Yet, while comfort is found in declaring the mother insane, the public demanded severe punishment in the case of Andrea Yates. Doctors, the media and the public believed Andrea Yates to be insane Yates experienced hallucinations which convinced her to drown her five children in order to save them from Satan. While she awaited trial she revealed in interviews that she believed she was being charged for being a bad mother, not for murdering her children (OMalley 79). She is seemingly the perfect example of the good mother driven to mu rder by insanity. The prosecutor argued Andrea Yates knew that killing was wrong, sh e knew she killed her children to save them, she knew she sacrificed herself to kill Satan (118). This is how District Attorney Parnham argued that Yates was fit to stand tria l and that insanity wa s not a valid defense for infanticide. The jury agreed with Parnha m, and Yates stood tria l although her insanity was widely recognized. Although insane, Yate s made the unnatural decision to kill her
Reid 12 children within her delusion. The jury believed that even insanity was not an excuse for denying m aternal instinct. Hester Prynne reinfo rces the myth of the all-powerful maternal instinct of the natural mother when she is ab le to overcome her urge to kill Pearl. It is because of this decision that she proves herself as a mother and finds redemption. Infanticide cannot keep Parkss Hesters fr om redemption because there is never a possibility of redemption in either of The Red Letter Plays. Parks rejects the models of the murderous mother presented by Barnett in exchange for the sympathetic model presented by Toni Morrison in Beloved. Parks subverts motherhood as represented by Hester Prynne as an American icon. This project requires Hester Prynne to function as an icon of motherhood even when separated from the text of The Scarlet Letter. Like Hester Prynne, Medea is a literary mother able to exist as myth outside the conf ines of the text. The myth of Medea is that of a woman who kills her children as part of a plan to harm her unfaithful husband. While this is the myth of Medea, it is not th e complex narrative of Euripides tragedy. Stimpsons discussion of Medea claims that this murderous mother is ultimately excused by the gods because she kills her children out of betrayed love for her husband (Stimpson 4). Medeas children are tools to be manipulated and are th e only way to seek revenge by killing Jasons new bride. The alternative is exile from Greece. The shame she and her children would experience would be too great to withstand. Medeas only option is to kill her children to spare them th e shame of exile at the hand of their own father. Once the children are associated with Medeas plot to murder Jasons new bride, they will certainly die. MEDEA: I weep to think I have to do
Reid 13 Next after that; for I sh all kill my own children. My children, there is none who can give them safety. (Euripides 775-777) Medea considers abandoning this carefully planned plot, with the support of the chorus, but she remains resolved to kill her childre n. The myth of Medea tends to assert the significance of revenge and viol ence in Medeas plotting, but Stimpson does not consider the genuine danger to the ch ildren from Creons family. Stimpson instead focuses on the foreignness of Medea and her suprahuman abil ities (5). Medea should be treated as a fully developed character, but Stimpson instead treats her as a mythical icon. Medea has been revised and reconsidered until all that remains is the character of the angry and vengeful murdering mother. The character of Medea has invoked many reinterpretations as seen in the reoccurring image of the murderous mother in literature. Yet, details of the narrative are rejected in favor of the imag e of the murderous mother. In this way, appropriations of Medea have reinterprete d the character rather than the play. Like Medea, Hester Prynne has evolved fr om a literary character to an American myth. Nathaniel Hawthornes The Scarlet Letter has a significant place in American literary history and is consider ed the novel that by near-una nimous consent launches the canon or national tradition (Gilm ore 120). It is strange to th ink of Hester Prynne as a myth outside the context of her novel because Hawthornes novel is much more recent than Euripides tragedy. Medea has obtained mythic status because multiple centuries of literature have reinterpreted the story of Medea. This example meets Julie Sanders definition of myth as something that dep ends upon, incites eve n, perpetual acts of reinterpretation in new contex t (Sanders 62). Hawthornes novel has such a significant place in the American literary canon becau se the United States is still young and
Reid 14 m alleable. In the scheme of American histor y, Hester Prynne is an American myth and icon of motherhood. The twentieth century provided new cultu ral models of the iconic mother such as June Cleaver, but Hester Prynn e still holds a mythic status in literature. The image of the branded and rejected woman haunts the American subconscious like the whiteness of a whale (Carr 1). Parks thwarts the iconicity of Medea and Hester Prynne by creating her own murderous mothers and calling them Hester. In Feminist Revisions of Cla ssic Texts on the American Stage, Sharon Friedman states that Parks denaturalizes the values we have come to associate with its iconic figure through seemingly inevitable de stinies (Friedman 88). All three Hesters begin their story as branded wo men. Hester Prynnes A is for adultery, Hester Smiths is for abortionist and Hester La Negritas stands for her illegitimate children and her illiteracy. Only Hester Prynne is able to find a new place in society because she chooses to not kill Pearl. Parkss Hesters are subjected to unnatural circumstances which lead them to kill their sons. In this way, Parkss Hesters challenge the redemptive fantasy of Hester Prynne by creating a symp athetic model of infanticide.
Reid 15 Chapter One The Slave Narrative in The Red Letter Plays The moment in which each of Parkss Hesters kills her child is shocking and discomforting to the audience. In Verna Fosters discussion of these plays, she emphasizes the way The Red Letter Plays deal with the inherent ly repellent stories of mothers who murder their children and why audiences find these women so fascinating (76). Liz Diamond has collaborated with Suzan-Lori Parks to produce stage productions of Parkss play, successfully expanding on Parkss text through staged performances (Drukman 58). In a discussion of their combined work, Diamond argues that the theatre has one foot firmly in the mud of popular en tertainment. She continues on to elaborate, I think that people want to be astonished, people want to be blown away, people want to laugh until they cry, cry till they laugh, people want to have a bl ast in the theatre, theres no question about that (64). Parks uses this desire for entertainment while simultaneously delving into serious and challenging issues. Parkss The Red Letter Plays make the horrific but fascinat ing act of infanticide visible to the audience. Through a combination of the gruesome spectacle and co medic dialogue between tragically destined characters, Parks deals with major social and historical issues regarding race and gender in the United States. As discussed in the introducti on, the social and cultural im plications of infanticide make the murderous mother unnatural. Th is notion implies that there is an easily described definition of the natural mother. Under this set of guide lines, motherhood is a necessary step in womanhood. All women should desire to be mothers and all women
Reid 16 should ins tinctively know how to care for a child. When a woman kills her child, she goes not only against her social standing, but against nature itself. In this way, infanticide is perceived as an unnatural act. Yet, there is precedent of infanticide occurring throughout history. The United Stat es has created and enforced unnatural laws which lead to infanticide. Specifically, infanticide is fre quently seen in slave narratives as a way to rescue a child from the hardships of slavery. There is documentation of many slave mothers killing their newborn infants before they could be taken by their masters and raised as slaves (Rich 256). Slaves on th e American plantation worked tirelessly and lived their days without freedom or personal liberties. It seemed to new mothers that there was no end in sight and the only escap e was death. Suzan-Lori Parks takes Hester Prynne, the persistently adap table and malleable myth and gives her a newly relevant social and cultural geography (Sanders 68). Rather than simply modernizing Hester Prynnes character and story, Parks has given Hester new relevance by placing her into the American Slave narrative. As discussed in the introduction, Parkss Hesters do not fit into the model of the murderous mother created by the public. Th e public believes only a certain type of woman would kill her child, but The Red Letter Plays suggest that circumstances outside of a mothers control can lead to infanticid e. The circumstances presented in these play suggest the circumstances of the slave mother A mother in captivity is an unnatural state which persisted in the United States. These moth ers frequently killed their children as an act of defiance of slavery, but not as a reje ction of motherhood. While Parkss Hesters are not overtly in pre-Civil War cap tivity, their experiences share many similarities with that of the slave mother struggling to protect and care for her children. When she is unable,
Reid 17 she kills he r child to spare it th e experience of slavery. This urge to save ones children from a worse fate is explored in Harriet Jacobs Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. In this work of non-fiction, Jacobs describes her sacrifice to avoid slav ery and to save her children5. She escapes from a plantation, but choose s to hide in the small attic of her Grandmothers house for seven years in order to stay near her children and to protect them from her slave master (Jacobs 140). Jacobs explains that while her plight as a slave was better than most, she still chose to live in the roof of a shed for seven years with minimal human contact until her legs atroph ied, rather than spend one day under the oppression of another human being (115). This work is very different from the fictional works of Parks and Morrison. It is intended to reach out to upper-class white women as an example of the admirable slave mother. This memoir hoped to inspire these women to in turn speak out against the injustice of slavery upon women they felt empathy for. Jacobs provides the example of the good mother for whom the reader should feel all empathy. Yet, even this admirable and nurturing mother feels the dark and sinister urge to spare her children from the fate of slavery. Jacobs is presented as a civilized woman who is pushed to violent thoughts by circumstance. For example, soon after her son was born, he became deathly ill. Upon praying for his hea lth she thinks to herself, Alas, what a mockery it is for a slave mother to pray her dyi ng child back to life! Death is better than slavery (62). Jacobs directly points out the moral flaw in a system which might encourage infanticide. Jacobs is a very different model of the slave mother than Sethe, who is described in Morrisons Beloved. Morrison creates Sethe to drama tize the crisis of a mother 5 Although there is controversy over whether or not Jaco bs memoir is fiction, I will treat it as non-fiction in this thesis (Jacobs vii). The fact that it was intended to be received as non-fiction is the point of view I used when analyzing this work.
Reid 18 escaping oppression at all costs. Before she a tte mpts to murder her children, Sethe is very much a member of the community, bonding with all the Sweet Home men and the people in Baby Suggs circle of friends. She then mu rders her child in an act of passion and is shunned by the community and later accepted. This narrative neatly places the plot of The Scarlet Letter onto the slave narrative. From this work of fiction, th e reader receives entertainment and a renewed hatred for the injustice of slavery. Jacobs works to incite enough hatred to produce action from the read er. She does this by telling her story as empathetically as possible. Jacobs meticulously mimics dialect when producing dialogue, and while many of her fellow slaves speak with thick dialects and improper grammar, she speaks with etiquette and poise Even if Jacobs forged he r own perfect diction, it still demonstrates the model she intended to create (vii). Jacobs asks the white female reader to consider her own actions if she were in such a situation. Jacobs narrative demands action from its readers. Morrisons novel cha llenges the reader to appreciate AfricanAmerican history. I would argue that Parks uses this mode l of the murderous mother to explore sympathetic infanticide. The slave mother c onsiders killing her children to save them from the cruelty and injustice of slavery in Jacobs narrative and in Morrisons Beloved. Similarly, both Hesters kill their children due to the unnatural circum stances of the world they live in. They are women outside of sl avery, but there are elements of the slave plantation in their lives. Fucking A closely follows the slave narrative. Hester Smith kills her son because a worse fate is literally banging at the door. He has become Monster because Hester was not permitted to raise him. Hester is allowed to buy his freedom, but the price is continuously and unfairly raised, forcing Hester to become an Abortionist.
Reid 19 She is branded by her profession, m uch like a branded slave. The system which forced Hester to become an Abortio nist and her son to become a Monster sends three bounty hunters to torture Monster to death. When Hest er must choose her sons fate, she slits his throat to save him from this system of injustice. In the Blood relates to the slave mother more abstractly. Hester La Negrita kills her son in a rage rather than as an act of mercy, but her fate is sealed by her social conditions. Hester La Negrita is trapped in a system which wont allow her to adequately take care of her children. She represents th e slave mistress whose children are bastards and who are unsupported by their fathers. A plantation recorded only a childs mothers name in its birth record. This was to protec t the anonymity of the potentially white father (Davis, Women, Race & Class 12). These women were consid ered sexually promiscuous by their peers and owners because their child ren had no father. They were expected to support their children independently while w ithstanding the ridicule of the white men who fathered their children. This double standard exists in the modern world of Hester La Negrita. She is exploited repeat edly, but no character is willin g to help her feed and care for the children they are directly responsible for. Hester Prynne also raises a child on her own because, like Hester La Negrita, she refuses to name the father. In Puritan society and in the society of In the Blood, women are condemned for th eir illegitimate children, but fathers can go unnamed. This denies women their right to be se xual creatures without consequence, as men can be. This problem is exacerbated on the slave plantation where women are forced into sexual relationships a nd forced to care for the resulting children without support. But, the problem exists in many societies without the existence of
Reid 20 slavery. All three Hes ters fight to care for their children in this unjust world, but only Hester Prynne is successful. In The Dark and Abiding Presence in the The Scarlet Letter and Beloved, Jane Cocalis argues for similarities betwee n Morrisons novel and Hawthornes. Cocalis argues that in Beloved Toni Morrison deliberately retr aces and corrects Hawthornes line of inquiry (Cocalis 250). Where Hawthorne merely suggests a racial presence in Puritan social structure, Morrison asserts th e Africanist presence of U.S. literature and history. Morrison creates a He ster who is remarkable because of, not despite her fallen state through her portrayal of Sethe as the fallen woman (250). When Sethe kills her daughter she is silently shunned by the community. She and her youngest daughter, Denver, are isolated in the house haunted by th e spirit of the murdered infant, Beloved. There are two communities available to Sethe. The first community she experiences is the false community of the plantation which is disassembled by the schoolteacher. Sethe considers this plantation, called Sweet Home, to be her home until the schoolteacher takes over the plantation. Unde r this new regime, Sethe chooses to runaway. Only after being raped and beaten by the schoolteachers nephews is Sethe able to escape this violent and crumbling faade of a community. While Sethe and her children are able to escape to the North and live as free people, her masters may follow her to her new home. It is the threat of the cruelty of slavery which drives Sethe to attempt to kill all of her children, only succeeding in killing her older daughter. Once the white men have discovered her willingness to murder, they are unable to understand her actions. They are then quite willi ng to leave Sethes punishment in the hands of he r African-American community, declaring her too wild to
Reid 21 be a slave (Morrison, Beloved 176 ). They then leave legal justice to Sethes new community. This second community experienced by Sethe is the town in the North which quietly shuns her and her home after the deat h of her daughter. Like Hester Prynne, Sethe is shunned by the community and is later accepted back into the community. But, Sethe is welcomed when she needs help to banish th e ghost of her daughter. The community of Beloved rescues the social outcast when sh e proves helpless, unlike the Puritan community only interested in Hester on ce she proves able to support herself. Community is an extremely important feature in the works of Hawthorne, Morrison and Parks because community is necessary to the fate of the branded and isolated woman. Hester Prynnes community uses their Puritan form of justice to punish her for adultery. Hester Smith is similarly br anded as an abortionist, a job she must take because society has deemed it necessary to imprison her son, demanding money for his release. Hester La Negrita is betrayed by religion, medicine and the welfare system until she kills her son in a blind ra ge towards the system which ha s abandoned her. It is clear that Sethe attempts to kill her children becau se she cannot allow them to return to the faulty society which exists back at Sweet Ho me. There is no true or der in a society based on slavery, as can be seen when her masters nephews steal her milk from her lactating breasts, therefore stealing food from the mouths of her children (87). While the supposed community which exis ts on the plantation is troublesome, the community Sethe flees to is not entirely unlike the Puritan community seen in The Scarlet Letter. The town sees Sethe covered in th e blood of her child as she is pulled away from her home in a cart (178). This mo ment is similar to Hester Prynne on the scaffold. The community watches, judges and mentally brands Sethe as a crazed woman.
Reid 22 They then begin to fear her and isolate he r rem aining family and their home. Yet Sethe does not need to be literally branded. She is instead haunted by the spirit of her dead infant, Beloved. Sethes experience is an emotional tale for the reader and it is told with naturalistic elements. In Sethe, Morrison has created a sympathetic and forgivable murderous mother. The town rises to the occasion by the conclusion of the novel and forces the spirit of her dead child from the house (309). The community comes to terms with Sethes actions, as does the reader. An emphasis is placed on the horrific nature of the history which would push a woman to such urges, but these urges can ultimately be explained. Morrison does this by creating a very specific and relatable character. While Sethe is representative of the suffering of sl ave mothers, she is personable because she is a specific individual, but not an icon of the murderous mother. Because of this naturalistic structure, it would be easy to ignore Sethes tie s to the American myth of Hawthornes Hester Prynne or Parkss appropriation of this myth. In the works of Jacobs, Morrison and Park s, slave mothers know that the system of slavery compromises their motherhood by either seizing their children or compromising their ability to care for them Similarly, these mothers realize that once enslaved, even their maternal instinct will be unable to protect their children from the violence and cruelty of the sl ave plantation. Parkss Hesters assert their maternal rights by killing their sons before the world could ha rm them. They have gi ven their sons life, but they have suffered in the society of the play and wish to spar e their sons by taking that life back. This narrative of the murderous mother subve rts the idea of the natural mother by combining the slave narrative and the myth of Hester Prynne. In this way, Parks incorporates both infanticide a nd Hester Prynne into American history.
Reid 23 Suzan-Lori Parks and Toni Morrison have similar views on African-American history as portrayed in literature. In Playing in the Dark, Morrison argues that the knowledge of history that is passed dow n from generation to generation excludes African-American history altogether. This know ledge holds that traditional, canonical American literature is free of, uninforme d and unshaped by the four-hundredyear-old presence of, first Africans and then African -Americans in the United States (Morrison, Playing in the Dark 4-5). Morrison tries to reconstruc t this lost history to the popular audience through works like Beloved Parks also deals with hi story in her plays in a confrontational way. Through these plays she su ggests that by selectively remembering history, African-Americans have been denied their own past (Parks, The America Play 19). This is an idea presented very literally in The America Play. In this play, an AfricanAmerican man reenacts Abraham Lincolns assassination by dressing in a stove-pipe hat and beard and letting paying customers pretend to shoot him. Rather than archiving the whole of history, the Foundling Father constr ucts the hole of history, a theme park which displays American history to paying tourists (159). The amusement park is contained in a giant pit in th e ground and it depends on a series of icons to abbreviate history to the confines of the hole. These ic ons include people and characters such as Mary Queen of Scots, Christopher Columbus and Tarzan, King of the Apes (180). Parks confronts the experience of the African-American who is oppressed by the image of the American icon, Abraham Lincoln. American hist ory exists as storie s about white icons, recorded by white men. In An Equation for Black People Onstage, Parks describes the way this social oppression sp reads to dramatic representations of African-Americans onstage: As African-Americans we have a histor y, a future and a daily reality in which a
Reid 24 conf rontation with the white ruling class is a central feature. Yet the Klan does not always have to be outside the door for Black people to have lives worthy of dramatic literature (9). Parks acknowle dges the struggle of race in the United States, but she allows African-American characters to disp lay their struggle independently onstage. Her plays do not require a white presence to cont rast this struggle. Both Morrison and Parks acknowledge the need for African-American invol vement in the interpretation of history. Despite having no obvious parallels to The America Play and to American history, The Red Letter Plays are interested in a similar ki nd of confrontation. By framing two very different narratives around two very different Hesters, Parks asserts Hester Prynne as an American icon. Hester transce nds the boundaries of th e literary world and becomes American myth. She is the model of the redeemed sinner and the able mother who American women should idolize. Park s then subverts the icon by creating two worlds reminiscent of the slave plantation in which Hester is driven to kill her child. These new Hesters force the audience to questio n the nature of American history, as well as the nature of infanticide. Parks has stated in interviews that sh e decided to write a riff on Hawthornes novel before she had read The Scarlet Letter (Carr 1). This speaks to the extent of Hesters identification as American myth. According to Julie Sanders, A cultures mythology is its body of traditional narratives (Sanders 63). People who have never read the novel know the basic story of Hester Prynne because she is a part of American culture due to her status as a literary icon. The adulteress who was branded by her Puritan community and forced to stand on a scaffold be fore the town with her bastard child is a well known story. What is less well known is wh at happens after this scaffold scene,
Reid 25 other than th at Hester is eventually accepted by the community. In this way, The Scarlet Letter is a redemptive fantasy. Hester Prynne ove rcomes her social stigma when she proves her worth to the community. She beco mes a talented seamstress and intricately embroiders her A into a decorative item ra ther than a burden. The community comes to see this new A as standing for able rather than adulteress. Hester Prynne also proves herself to be a good mother. The fantas y of this redemption is that through hard work and maternal instinct, any woman can succeed. In reality, many women, such as Parkss Hesters, are unable to redeem themselves due to social conditions. In Hester and the New Feminine Vision Monica Elbert notes that Hesters motherhood gives her latitude in this society of patriarchs (Elbert 181). Hester proves her worth to the community by nurturing a ne w member of the community. Her identity as a mother is at stake once in the novel when the community considers taking Pearl from her. Elbert points out that this is the only moment in which Hester loses her composure. Hester instinctively knows that she has the backing of natu re, but not the iron framework of the law (184). While The Scarlet Letter is the tale of a branded woman, it is also the story of a woman who uses her motherhood to overcome social stigma. In this way, her maternal instinct can triumph over all social conditions. Parkss Hesters are repeatedly denied their ability to mother. He ster Smith is separated from her child and Hester La Negrita cannot make money to feed her children. These women have no latitude in this society and are unable to overcome the stigma of their brands. Parkss Hesters come to the opposite fate of Hester Prynne because their class prevents them from achieving this redemptiv e fantasy. These Hesters cannot rise above their class in the same way that slaves were unable to rise from slavery. Only by paying
Reid 26 for their ow n freedom could they depart from slavery, but this payment only reinforced chattel slavery. The class systems of In the Blood and Fucking A are based on the slave plantation, but not on race. Hester La Negrita is spat upon by the chorus because she is promiscuous, not because she is African-American. Welfare Lady is also an AfricanAmerican woman and she has found a place in the world without difficulty, as have the African-American men. The society of Fucking A is ruled by a constant exchange of gold coins. The script does not require a multiracial cast, so class is determined by money in this play. Yet, Hester Smith had no hope of acquiring enough money to rise above her profession. She instead passes all her m oney along to secure her sons freedom. Similarly, the Mayor and First Lady are financ ially secure and maintain their social status. The system of class in both of these plays is in place before the play begins and it cannot be altered by th e action of the play. In this way class is historically constructed and cannot be questioned. In The Red Letter Plays Parks tells the story of wo men who have already been forsaken by the community, much like Hester Prynne on the scaffold. Hester La Negrita has been discarded as illiterate and sexually promiscuous. Her bra nd is her blackness and her children. She is unable to escape the burden of her race because her name is a constant reminder. Her children are also a burden which she is blamed and ridiculed for. If she was a white woman like Amiga Gringa she could sell her children, but she is instead burdened with a maternal bond to her o ffspring. She must stay under the bridge to watch them rather than seek out money to improve their situation (Parks 27). Hester Smiths brand is less subtle. She is branded wi th an A into her skin so that anyone she encounters will recognize her as an Abortionist. Throughout this play, she is ridiculed
Reid 27 like Hes ter La Negrita for her social status The Hunters ruthlessly accuse her brand of stinking up the place (145). These visceral a nd indestructible brands differ from Hester Prynnes brand. Hester Prynne can remove he r brand physically and she can remove it socially by leaving the community. Hester Prynne can embrace her brand and remodel it into a representation of her ability. Parks s Hesters are trapped and end up even more isolated from the community. By presenting th ese two Hesters as part of an inescapable destiny to murder their children, Parks underm ines the myth of Hester Prynne. Parkss Hesters never have a chance to overcome their brands. In the Blood and Fucking A insert a mother fighting for her children into two very different worlds than the Puritan community of Hester Prynne. Whereas Hester Prynne is cast out because she has one bastard child, Hest er La Negrita is cast out because she has five children from five different fathers. Th e community of the play judges her for having too many children to take care of. Yet, in this hyper sexualized world, it is easy to understand how Hester La Ne grita came to have so many children. Each of the institutions she turns to, medicine, religion, welfare, friendship and love turn on her and leave her with another child. On the other hand, Hester Smith of Fucking A lacks any sexuality. This play is not at all interested in where her child came from; it is instead interested in how Monster grew up without a mother and the violence which ensues. Hester Smiths only sexual contact comes via rape, which is also a violen t act. While Hester La Negrita demonstrates the plight of the African-American mother tryi ng to survive here, now, Hester Smith is of a different world altogether. Her plight is very similar to the slave mother. Her child has been taken away to be raised in a prison, where he has no alternativ e but to turn into a
Reid 28 monster. The rules of this world are unquestioned by its characters, but are very troublesom e to the audience. In Scene 9, Butc her lists all of his daughters crimes to Hester. The list goes on for two pages and includes both serious crimes such as murder, and nonsensical crimes such as hanging upside down in a public place (Parks, The Red Letter Plays 160). The extraneous rules listed by th e Butcher suggest a future or past society far beyond the Capitalism of the USA. Yet, the violence of this play hauntingly reminds the audience of the slave narrative. Both Hesters fight valiantly to care for their children in a world which denies them of their motherhood. This struggle be tween the world a nd these protagonists eventually leads each Hester to kill her child. While this ba sic plotline is common in the two plays, many elements are different. The two Hesters suffer similar conflicts, but are ultimately extremely different women who exist in very different worlds. Lisa Anderson describes the stereotype which In the Blood is working against. Hester La Negrita represents the negative ster eotype of black women as sexually promiscuous and as the welfare queen (Anderson 55). This welfare queen is a woman who contently lives off the government and continues to have children who will also live off the system. These stereotypes prevent people from looking at the person behind the welfare system. While Hester La Negrita has had five or more sexual partners and she lives off the welfare system, she is not an unsympathetic character. This Hester is very much a product of her social surroundings. She is sexual because sh e is a woman who desires physical contact. Her sexual appetite is only a problem because none of her lovers are willing to accept the consequences of their sexual in teraction. Hester is then forc ed to be on welfare because she cant leave her children alone to find wo rk. Hester is given many opportunities, but
Reid 29 none of these are viable options for her. Th e system has options which would help the stereotype of the welfare queen, but not the real person behind this stereotype. Hester Sm ith is maneuvered by her societ y until she kills her son. Yet, she has more of an identity than Hester La Negrita. As a character, she is given a real last name and occupation and love interest. She also has the agency to scheme and abort First Ladys child. Yet, Hester Smith lives in a world with unfamiliar rules and restrictions which remind the viewer of American slavery. Hester La Negrita represents the suffering black woman of today. A century after slavery and black women are still taken advantage of by society. Hester Smith is the African -American woman still oppressed by social injustice. Both of Parkss Hesters focus a ll their energy on helping their children. Hester La Negrita literally goes hungry in order to protect her child ren and Hester Smith takes a shameful occupation to free Boy from prison. Ea ch Hester is a modern black icon, who is not at all admirable to the othe r characters of these plays. Ea ch Hester is judged and then oppressed by these other characters. In the Blood is inspired by the real world a nd features evidence of a familiar social system. Fucking A is neither here nor now. Piec es of evidence can be gathered to determine what kind of world this play ex ists in. The first piece of evidence is the A Hester wears branded into her flesh. The first words out of her mouth describe her role in the community. She is troubled by the number of women seeking abortions at such a late hour, yet she realizes the necessity of these customers. Their troubles yr livelihood, Hester (Parks, The Red Letter Plays 117). A significant featur e of this world is the nature of identity. Identity is neither fluid nor constant. Characters transition and age in dramatic ways, shedding their old names with their old identi ties. Rich Girl becomes First
Reid 30 Lady and Boy becom es Monster. Hester speaks of Rich Girl and Boy, but the audience never sees any physical sign of these characte rs. These characters cannot return to their previous identities. Hester also changes dr amatically in the time before this play, although she is able to keep her name. She ha s experienced the fall of Hester Prynne and has transformed from a mother to an Abortionist. Like Hester Prynne, Smith hones her ability and finds success. She is consumed by her identity as an Abortionist not only by the symbolism of a scarlet letter, but by the smell which her scar emits when it weeps (146). This community does not suffer the pres ence of an Abortionist in silence; they complain enthusiastically of her smell. The community of In the Blood slowly wears Hester La Negrita down until Chillis final act of contempt causes her to lash out at her own son (106). Hester Smith also kills her son because of a flawed syst em. But, this process is not an emotional wearing down. It is instead an intertwining of plots which le ad to a predictable climax. From the moment Butcher shows Hester how to slaughter an animal, the audience realizes that Hester wi ll have to put that skill to use ( 162). Plot lines also intertwine so that Hester unknowingly aborts her own grandchild. Even after the conclusion of the play, Hester does not realize sh e ever could have been a gran dmother. Only the audience can see the big picture and can appreciate the gruesome irony. The conclusion of this play is depend ent on the fatally flawed system of the world of Fucking A. The flaw is the problem of the slave plantation. Hesters son can be separated from her and is therefore subjected to adolescence without a mother. In this case, this is a recipe for disaster. Without the influence of a good mo ther, he turns into a monster and assimilates to prison life. The Freedom Fund will gladly allow Hester to buy
Reid 31 her sons freedom but only if Hester Smith can afford it. The Freedom Funds motto is Freedom Aint Free (131) and no amount of hard work can ever set Monster free because his price will be highe r with every visit. This im moral system refers to the agreement that slaves could be treated as chattel (Davis, Inhuman Bondage 193). They had to be fed and sheltered, but they were considered property to be bought and sold without consideration for emotional wellbeing. While slave masters had the moral responsibility to treat their chattel fairly, they infrequently did. Although masters were sometimes kind and fair, the Quaker John Woolman fought against slavery by arguing that no person is saintly enough to be entr usted with another mans freedom (198). While Parkss use of the slave narrative in The Red Letter Plays incorporates American history, she uses history very differently in The America Play. Parks uses a linear plotline to tell the stories of these tw o Hesters. Parks confr onts and reinterprets history through non-linear narrative in The America Play. In the essays used to introduce The America Play and Other Works, she explains the use of this style of theater. When an event is repeated in the course of a play several times, the audience is forced to question the significance of that event. She calls this technique rep & rev, which abbreviates repetition and revision (Parks, America Play 9). Parks explains her appreciation of naturalism but explains that those structur es never could accommodate the figures which take up residence inside me. (8) While The Red Letter Plays are not Naturalist plays, they are seemingly linear and straightforward when compared to The America Play. It would seem then that the linear plotline is a very deliberate choice for Parks in The Red Letter Plays. Because these works are so recent, there is little scholarship on Parkss evolving format of writing play s. It would then be useful to compare the approaches
Reid 32 Parks uses in her ea rlier works in order to determine what elements persist in The Red Letter Plays For instance, The America Play and Venus are both extremely interested in themes of recorded or remembered histor y. By restaging moments of history, Parks claims that she is creating a new history on st age (19). This theory of recreating history through theatrical reenactment is visible in Parkss treatm ent of the myth of Hester Prynne. Also, referring to the nonlinear stru cture of these two older plays emphasizes elements of this adaptation which are similarly repeated and revised. Venus is also interested in the issue of r ecorded history. This play recreates the story of the Venus Hottentot through a series of reenactments and a reading of actual historical documents. The play is made up of scenes from Sartie Baartmans life, trial and autopsy. The story of the Venus Hottentot was or iginally recorded in a cold and clinical manner which focused entirely on Baartmans blackness throughout her autopsy. By putting this body back onstage with a revised narrative, Parks is severing Baartmans body from the narratives circulated about that body (Frank 162). Park s retells this story as a tragedy with more human aspects, but w ith an unnatural structure in order to situate the figure of the girl and her bodily repres entation squarely within the realm of performance that engages its own theatr icality (161). This non-linear plotline reinvigorates the story of the Venus Hottento tt as the story of a woman with agency, but with historical destiny. Parks emphasizes that Baartman chose from a selection of oppressors, but the play is re telling history and the ending cannot be altered. This is a similar approach used to apply more recognizable human flaws in to the character of Hester Prynne.
Reid 33 By looking at Venus, the character of Hester Prynne can be viewed as a historical icon rather than a literary icon. As previous ly discussed, the myth of Hester Prynne has transcended Hawthornes novel. Hester Prynne is no longer bound by the text, but she is instead bound by her status as the iconic branded woman and able mother. Parks restages the life and death of Sartie Baartman to question the way these events have been recorded and remembered. Parks does not quest ion the historical validity of these events, but she does encourage the audience to question history beca use it has not been experienced first-hand. She reminds the audien ce that all history has been interpreted. The myth of Hester Prynne has similarly been interpreted. This is why Parks disregards the iconic image of the branded mother on the scaffold before the town, cradling her bastard infant in her arms. The Red Letter Plays instead focus on the plight of the branded woman who cannot escape her brand and the tragic consequences of this label. The other advantage of reading The Red Letter Plays with the perspective of The America Play and Venus in mind is that it emphasizes any elements of nonlinear narrative. While both plays have a beginning, climax and conclusion, there are elements which are reoccurring. For instance, the Hunters in Fucking A have several scenes dispersed throughout the play to create dramatic tension. They remind the audience of the literal threat to Monster and the emotional threat to Hest er Smiths perception of Boy. The confession is a reoccurring action in In the Blood It reminds the audience of the constant sexualization of He ster La Negrita. These ideas and images are sprinkled throughout the main plotline to remind the audien ce of the persistent themes of violence and sexuality. This repetition al so suggests that neither of these plays is a naturalistic play. Neither of the worlds of these Hesters is intended to be mimetic representations of
Reid 34 reality. The worlds are instead part o f a theatrical space, as designated by doubling in In the Blood and by TALK in Fucking A. The script specifies that actors will play multiple parts in In the Blood. This specific use of doubling reminds the viewer that the producti on is not a naturalistic play. This society reveals the double standard of institutionalized relief by casting actors to play both Hester La Negritas children and the institutions who should help her. Hester La Negrita comes very close to receiving assi stance. She seemingly has access to all of the things she could need to get a leg up. She has the bond of womanhood with Amiga Gringa. They should seemingly be mothers who can understand each other, but Amiga Gringa has sold her children a nd rips off Hester when pawni ng her watch. When Hester is in pain with hunger, a doctor comes to examin e her. He obscenely peers between her legs in public and then orders that she be sterilized. Religion should come lend a hand, but the Reverend is busy building a new church with donations and cannot spare the time to recognize his own bastard child. The welfare lady also fails Hester when she gives her clothes to sew. Unlike Hester Prynne and her natural talent for embroidery, Hester La Negrita is unable to even thread a needle and Welfare Lady does not teach her. Finally, love fails Hester. Her first love, Chilli, retu rns to rescue her from her life under a bridge, but rejects her upon meeting the four children that are not his. While each of these characters represents th e institutions which failed Hester, they are also individuals who sexually exploit her. These institutions and individuals are also the actors who play Hesters children. There are six people in the cast including the actress playing Hester. The five other actors each play a person who sexually exploits Hester La Negrita and the resu lting illegitimate child. This st aging provides a very literal
Reid 35 rem inder of the injustice of the chorus who spits on the promiscuous mother and her bastard children, but later pl ays those same children. This device also suggests the hopelessness of the play. The adult responsible for Hesters child can never meet their own child. Hester hopes Chilli w ill return and take care of he r and her children. But, he cannot be a part of the family unless his son Ja bber is conveniently offstage. In order for Hester to receive any help from an adult, one of her children has to be off stage. Hester La Negrita is doomed by doubled casting. The tragic result comes wh en Chilli abandons her and she attacks Jabber, who is played by the same actor. In my staging of Fucking A, I took many steps to create an unnatural world. These steps I will discuss in my next chapter. The use of TALK in the script was not a production choice, but it is an el ement of the production which Parks uses to establish an unnatural world. Parks takes advantage of Fucking A as a production with a live audience with the use of TALK Throughout the play, a projector provides subtitles for this language on a screen next to the stage. This device has a variety of effects. It suggests that the world onstage is foreign and exotic When characters speak TALK it sounds like a confusing garble of different languages street slang and everyday phrases. The characters onstage speak in a strange and my sterious code, but the secret and exotic message is vulgar and translated through th is theatrical device. The audience has no choice but to learn the meani ng of this foreign language. Fucking A, a play which features the ultimate swear-wor d in its title, makes minimal, but very specific use of profanity. With the exception of Hester repeated ly referring to First Lady as Rich Bitch and to her fucking a in Scene 19, profanity is cloaked in a foreign language. Yet, seeing this profanity translated on a large screen bombards the audience and reinforces the gritty
Reid 36 world of the play. The written word has m ore power in these situations and makes insults such as You got a respectable good-for-nothing vagina! more offensive and shocking (119). When Hester does utter the f-word, the language is unprecedented. The audience anticipates a play abundant with offe nsive language, but fucking a is reserved for Scene 19. In this scene Hester realizes th e shame of being an Abortionist when she no longer has a reason to raise money for the Freedom Fund. She had worked hard doing something she saw as morally wrong and socially damning in order to rebuild her family, a dream which is lost when she is told Boy is dead. The dead Boys dead mother works for herself now. Shes an aborter. Dont hang yr head shes not yr mom. My fucking A. He woulda hated what his mother has become ( 207). This moment carri es great significance in the plot, and the specific language emphasizes this. Neithe r fucking nor aborter are translated into TALK. Fucking A is extremely interested in abortion and Hesters identity as an Abortionist, but the word aborti on is disguised as die abah-nazip. In this way, TALK is the language of women, which describes thin gs such as menstruation, vaginas, sexual promiscuity and abortion. Second Hunter knows just enough to get by (146). The only TALK Butcher knows is I coul dnt speak TALK to save my life (225). Alternatively, all women can speak TALK regardless of their drastically different social and economic status. From Waiting Woman to Freedom Fund to First Lady, all can speak TALK and use this language to guise discussions of womens things, as described by Canary Mary. Butcher: Whatdoyathink theyre talking about?
Reid 37 Canary: W omens things. Private womens things. Motherhood things. (213) Canary is not referencing TALK here, but this is an example of the way in which discussion of reproductive organs is considered private in a play which revolves around sex, pregnancy, abortion and rape. All these thin gs are cloaked to th e characters through the use of a foreign language, but are quite obv ious to the audience th rough the use of the projector. Unnaturalistic elements of these pr oductions keep the audience from ever believing that these Hesters may escape their brands. Hester Smith lives in a world engraved with violence. Her son has been take n and sculpted into a literal Monster by the violence of the prison system. Her caree r is dependent on the violence of abortion. She almost finds love in the Butcher, who has a similarly violent job. The Hunters are always coming to take Hester Smiths son away and she always has the ability to end his life. Whatever plot line Hester and Monster pu rsue independently along the course of the play, they will inevitably be pushed toge ther by the force of the Hunters. This inevitability is why Hester Smith can neve r escape her own brand. This is because the A is branded into her flesh and she can never escape her role as the Abortionist. Hester La Negrita is similarly doomed to retain her brand. She is branded as both the Welfare Queen and as the illiterate mo ther of five illegitimate children. Although Jabber makes some attempt to teach his mother to read, the effort seems hopeless. When Hester attempts to express herself with the only letter she knows by writing an A in the dirt with a stick, it is clear that she will ne ver appreciate the meaning of this letter (58). Hester La Negrita is trapped in the cycle of the sexual promiscuity of this world. Her children are spawned from the sexual lust of the community. Once her children are born
Reid 38 illegitim ate, their parent w ill deny any responsibility, abandoning Hester La Negrita to fend for her children alone. Through the re occurring event of the confession, the audience is reminded of the specific sexual en counter which resulted in each child. In Elements of Style, Parks emphasi zes the significance of choosing to tell a story through theater. She believes that theater is an art that is not poor film or cheap TV but an art so specific and strange in its examination of the human condition (Parks, The America Play 7). The experience of The Red Letter Plays as a theatrical event is especially significant when compared to the experience of Hester Prynne. Hester Prynne lacks all significance as a detailed ch aracter because she can exist independently of the physical description offered by Hawthorne Parks argues that by staging the stories of Hester Smith and Hester La Negrita, history is being made. Events have actually occurred before viewers, theref ore making the events history. The Scarlet Letter exists only on the page and cannot be considered hist ory. All that is relevant to the physical representation of the myth of Hester Prynne is her letter and her Puritan dress. The bodies of Parkss Hesters are very important as two physical presences. Hester Smith stands before the audience with an A branded into her flesh and her Abortion tools in hand. She physically slits the throat of he r son in front of the audience. The image of Hester La Negrita is similarl y visceral. Hester La Negrita is starving and abused. The audience watches as she is ex amined by a doctor in the road and as she performs oral sex on the Rev D (39 & 77). In The Scarlet Letter, the reader abstractly learns of the sexual history of the Re verend Dimmesdale and Hester Prynne. In the Blood presents sexuality through detailed narrativ e and through physical representation. Hester La Negrita also carries the baton of a police officer thr oughout the play. This weapon is
Reid 39 always at her hip, ready to bludgeon Jabber to death (17). If Parkss Hesters did not exist physically on stage, they would be unable to physically kill thei r children before the audience. It is im portant that these mo ments of violence are not metaphorical, but terrifyingly real. Parks argues that staging an event is making history. There is a big difference between Hester Prynne s momentary contemplation of infanticide and Parkss Hesters, who kill their children in front of an audience. Investigating these plays through reading and research provided insight into these themes, but actually putting history, infanticid e and Hester onstage before an audience provided new insight. Socially and culturall y, infanticide invokes a highly emotional response. The media deals with this res ponse by building a model of the murdering mother. But, this model depends on a speci fic model of motherhood in which only the unnatural mother kills her child. Because th e slave narrative provides the precedent of sympathetic infanticide due to unnatural ci rcumstances, this mode l of motherhood cannot be considered reliable. Hawthor nes Hester Prynne enforces this faulty notion of the good mother and the redemptive fantasy because th e character of Hester is a literary and historical icon. By placing the myth of Hest er Prynne into the c ontext of the slave narrative, Parks questions the noti on of infanticide as unnatural.
Reid 40 Chapter 2 Staging Fucking A: Creating a Society N either Here nor Now Directing Fucking A granted me a new intimacy with the text that allowed me to fully explore the themes of history and infanticide discussed in my first chapter. Putting these ideas onstage in a way that could be understood by the audience proved difficult, but it also provided insight into the ideas Suzan-Lori Parks discusses in the Essays from the introduction of The America Play and Other Works. In this series of essays she argues for the significance of theater as an ar t form. A playwright, as any other artist, should accept the bald fact that content dete rmines form and form determines content, that form and content are interdependent form is not something that gets in the way of the story but is an integral part of the story (Parks, America Play 7). By staging Fucking A, I had the opportunity to choose and design a form that would best convey the story to the audience. One of the resources available to me as the director of a live production was the ability to manipulate the distance the audience sensed between the society of the play and their own society. I c oncluded in my research prior to rehearsals that Parks reframes American history and The Scarlet Letter within The Red Letter Plays through her reinterpreta tion of the story of the brande d woman. I now had to design the frame doing this reinterpretati on. In my production, the audience was made very aware of the theatrical nature of the society onstag e so that they could consider theatrical presentation as part of the action of the play. My production conveyed this metadrama by asking the audience to question the existence of songs and ge nre in the society onstage.
Reid 41 The play was not contained in one particular genre or as one particular type of m usical. Instead, the structure of song and genre was constantly changing, forcing the audience to question these theatrical devices. These devi ces framed American history, as represented onstage through costumes. In this way the audience would have to acknowledge the dramatic form that conveys the actions onstage. An example of metadrama as used in my production is in Scene 5, which takes place in a tavern. At the beginning of the scene, Susanna, the production pianist and musical director, played The Entertainer not as an accomp anist, but as a person in the tavern. The audience is well-awar e of a piano players technical role in a musical as the provider of the accompaniment which assists characters who randomly burst into song and the thing that provides transitional music between scenes. The pianist is not an element of the society on stage; she is an element of the production itself. By momentarily including Susanna in this society as a character, she suggests fluidity and a connection between the world of the play and the production presenting it for the audience. Essentially, the audience is forced to acknowledge and question the existence of the pianist. Before this scene, piano accompaniment can be disregarded as a purely technical aspect of a producti on, similar to light or sound e ffects. The Scribe drunkenly flirts with the pianist, suggesting that she is indeed part of the world onstage (see Fig. 2). Keir Elam uses the example of a character acknowledging the audi ence to explain his definition of metadrama. This defini tion also applies to the example in Fucking A in which the audience acknowledges Susanna as a performer rather than a theatrical device or a character. This moment brings atten tion to bear on the th eatrical and dramatic realities in play, on the fictional status of the characters, on the very theatrical
Reid 42 transa ction (Elam 81). If the pianist exists both as a fictional character and as Susanna playing the piano, other performers have simila rly theatrically fluid identities. It would seem that this confusion would weaken the dr amatic frame of the play, but Elam argues that it does not: They appear to be cases of breaking frame, since the actor is required to step out of his role and acknowledge the presence of the public, bu t in practice they are licensed means of confirming the frame by pointing out the pure facticity of the representation (81). In this example, the audience is encouraged to consider how the history onstage is being created dramatica lly. The audience realizes they are viewing history through a dramatic frame in wh ich performance interprets action. Figure 2: Scribe flirts with pianist in tavern in Scene 5. 6 The technique I used to create a metadr amatic production was inspired by Bertolt Brechts use of metadrama explained in Notes to The Threepenny Opera. In this essay, Brecht states that the play is concerned with bourgeois conceptions not only as content, by representing them, but also through the ma nner in which it does so (Brecht 43). This 6 All production photos courtesy of Michael Conlen.
Reid 43 m eans that the content of The Threepenny Opera is not meant to be a mimetic representation of society. The audience should see both the content of the play and the dramatic devices, such as song and costume, whic h are used to present this content. In the Essays previously discussed, Parks has carried on this technique in to her recent works. The devices a director uses in a production of Brechts play should expand and reinforce the commentary on bourgeois conceptions set forth by the text of The Threepenny Opera. My goal was to not merely stage a live version of the text of Fucking A but to create a rejection of American history as set forth by the redemptive fantasy of Hester Prynne. While In the Blood is located here and now, Fucking A takes place in a world unfamiliar to the audience. As discussed, metadramatic devices distance the world onstage as a place conveyed through theatrical devices, unlike the reality of the audience. Yet, the rules within the action of the play also set it apart as fo reign to the audience. Institutions such as the Fr eedom Fund and the crimes listed by the Butcher in Scene 9 establish a society with foreign laws and so cial conduct. Metadrama tic devices emphasize the separation between the society of the production and the society of the audience. These societies have different rules social ly and dramatically. The world onstage is dictated not only by these rules, but also by the costume, song and genre used to imagine the society. In the world onstage, people burst into song and can be arrested for crimes unheard of to the audience. Yet, as noted in th e first chapter of this discussion, the world rules of this society are actually reminiscen t of the slave narrative. This incorporates American history in this otherwise foreign world.
Reid 44 Freedom aint free invokes history, a subject Parks also disc usses in the essay Possession. In this essay, Parks claims that by putting an event onstage, she is essentially creating history. Im working theatre like an incuba tor to create new historical events (Parks, The America Play 5). The significance of a theatrical event is that the event actually happe ns onstage, unlike an event recorded on the page, such as The Scarlet Letter. By staging Fucking A a world was created and history was made. Yet, the world of Fucking A is Neither here nor now. S o, while history was made, the society created onstage was not the same society as that of the audience. In my production I sought to emphasize the distinction between the society of the audience and the society of Fucking A by leaving the location and time of the play indeterminable through the use of costumes from a variety of time periods. While these costumes were a way to i nvoke the problem of American history as investigated in Chapter One, they also dealt with casting issues at New College. In the previous chapter, I discussed the way Parks invokes the slave narrativ e with the plot of Fucking A. Ideally, a production would further re mind the audience of slavery in the United States with a multiracial cast. If Hester and Monster could be played by AfricanAmericans, it would suggest the racial injustice of slavery. Infanticide would then be portrayed as a reaction to this particular kind of injustice. An entirely white cast correctly suggests that infanticide is a result of a system based on power, wealth and branding, but it disregards the historical and racial basis of this injustice. I sought to sugg est that this kind of society is rooted in the injustices of American hi story by putting performers in costumes from different eras of American history.
Reid 45 While different costumes suggested di fferent time periods, all costumes were recognizably American. This technique was inspired by Parkss investigation of the meaning and creation of history in The America Play. In this play she subverts the association between history and racial id entity. She accuses other African-American playwrights of simplifying the THE Black experience by only writing dramas that feature the black and the White other (19). She argues that the Klan does not always have to be outside the door for Black people to have lives worthy of dramatic literature (19). She accuses African-Americans of complicity in their own stereotyping by accepting history as fact without questioning the accuracy of te xtbooks or the validity and significance of American icons. While it is co mmonly accepted that the past has made the future what it is, Parks ques tions the difference between what is past and what is history. History is remembered and documented and is therefore always altered by the process of storytelling. The America Play undermines the iconicity of Li ncolns assassination. In this play, Lincoln is repeatedly assassinated onstage. This repetition is Parkss method of undermining the notion of linear causal history. Instead, the play sugge sts that history is made up of a series of iconic figures or moments. The play demonstrates the problem of experiencing African-American history through a series of signifier s selected by white men. These signifiers can be e ither iconic or indexical in The America Play. While the iconical sign represents its object mainly by similarity, the indexicals signs are causally connected with their objects between the sign-vehicl e and its signified (Elam 18-19). The icons in Foundling Father s perception of American history embody history to the extent that when combined they creat e a theme park called The Great Hole of
Reid 46 History. Th ese icons are extremely necessary to history by the people in the world of this play. Yet, the icons in The Great Hole of History are merely indexical representations of the people that once existed. For example, an icon such as George Washington is represented by his wooden teeth. These teeth poi nt to Washingtons career and to his life story. In The America Play, Lincoln is pointed to by the beard worn by the Foundling Father. In The America Play, costumes indexically stand not only for Abraham Lincoln, but for the Civil War and Emancipation. The abilit y of costumes to signify is discussed in Elams Semiotics of Theater. Costume, for example, may denote iconically the mode of dress worn by the dramatic figure but, at th e same time, stand indexically for his social position or profession (22-23) In this way, when Foundling Father wears a hat and beard, he can now represent a variety of them es and issues. The use of indexical symbols is especially interesting when the Foundling Father dons a blond beard. Early in the play, the Foundling Father acknowledges that the stovepipe hat is inaccurate, because no one would wear such a tall hat to see a play (Parks, The America Play 166). Yet, accuracy is not the point of reenacting Li ncolns assassination. Lincoln s beard and hat are purely indexical and have no need for accuracy. Linc olns beard no longer needs to even be the right color because it is so rooted in myth. Even the shooters in The America Play shout out things that are historica lly incorrect. Each patron shout s out something different, but each individual believes their cry to be accu rate (165). These quotes have a place in the American myth of the assassination, so they have a place in American history. In the same way, if people view Lincoln as the ma n with a hat, beard and mole, then the Foundling Father looks exactly lik e Lincoln, despite his race.
Reid 47 By repeatedly reenacting the scene of the assassination, the Am erican public and the Foundling Father have made Lincoln an American myth. His beard, hat and the cries of his assassin make up the widely known and accepted facts about Lincolns death. In this way, Parks is described as having to dig through layers of sediment to unveil history and the archaeology of race (Thom pson 174). My goal was to recreate this sensation of sifting throu gh and questioning American hi story throughout the action of Fucking A with the use of costumes. Each costum e invokes a different era, but an era which specifically makes up the popular conception of American history. This gives significant relevance to the social issues ch aracters deal with: injustice, violence and infanticide. Because the worl d of the play suggests American history, these issues are shown as problematic both historically and cu rrently. Specifically, infanticide is not the result of the unnatural mother. It has hist orical precedence in th e slave narrative and should be treated as the result of social pr essure, similar to the conditions which prompt Hester Smith to kill her son. Because Fucking A is neither here nor now, I ha d the option of enforcing this distance by staging the performance as if it we re somewhere distinctly separate from life as the audience knows it. I could have displaye d a different culture and/or time period in the costumes and set. But, I worried that by distancing the location of the play, the audience could become complacent and disregar d the injustice of this world as foreign and potentially forgivable. For example, Toni Morrisons novel Beloved raises awareness of African-American history, but it dismisses Sethes act of infanticide as history. The conditions leading to her daughters death are historically specific. In this way, the reader can dismiss infanticide as history rather than as a current problem. By locating Fucking A
Reid 48 in recent times, the play would seem to be a replication of the audiences reality, but with new social rules. The audience could then blame the foreignness of the society onstage rather than recognizing the similarities betw een their own world and the world onstage. I instead invoked American history through a variety of costumes and set pieces, suggesting that the social conditions inspiring infanticide were elements of the past and present. Costumes represented a range from 19th century to modern American to completely ambiguous. Yet, everything was distinctly American. This forced the audience to take responsibility for American history. By suggesting elements of the past and present in American histor y, the horrific nature of the pl ot was made more difficult to digest. A seemingly unfamiliar world was brought closer to reality with very familiar garments and furniture, making the audience feel guilty for the creation of the unjust world on stage. The costumes I put on performers defi ned their characters socially and historically. This emphasized the ab ility and limitations of brands in Fucking A. As the original branded woman, Hester Prynne em broiders her A w ith a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony (Haw thorne 37). Hester Prynne embellishes her brand and accepts it as part of her life by using it as an advertisement of her sewing skills. She chooses to bear the burden when she opts to stay in the Puritan community. Unlike Hester Smith, Hawthornes Hester can rem ove her brand. Yet, when she does, Pearl throws a fit and is unable to recognize and ack nowledge Hester as her mother without the scarlet letter (144). In this way, the brand has fused with Hesters identity. In the novel, Hester Prynne is a fully developed characte r beyond her brand, but th e details of her life
Reid 49 are not part of the m yth of Hester as described in the first chapter. The American memory of Hester Prynne is of her brand. This brand points to the image of the woman with an illegitimate child standing before the town on a scaffold. The community of Fucking A similarly attempts to use Hesters role as the Abortionist to summarize her existence. In Act One, the Freedom Fund discusses her pr ofession and the Hunters mock her for her smell. In this act, the brand inadequately repr esents Hester Smith as she pursues her role as mother and lover to Monster and Butcher. In Act Two, Hester accepts her role as Abortionist in order to pursue her revenge. In doing so she sacrifices her identity as wife, mother and grandmother. Many other characters wear brands in Fucking A. For instance, Monster and the Freshly Freed Prisoners wear the mark of their crimes and are unable to function in society with a criminal record. Unlike the A worn by the Hesters, these men suffer hard times in these free streets because they have escaped prison to discover they no longer have loved ones in the outside world (Parks, The Red Letter Plays 204). The prison system has changed Monster until he is unrecognizable to his own mother. Prison has raised him from a petty thief to a harden ed criminal and he is unable to function in the outside world. When he a sserts his power over First Lady by threatening her, she snitches and sends the Hunters after him. While the brands of these ex-cons are only visible in Scene 17, they are equally diffi cult to cope with in this society. In The Scarlet Letter Reverend Dimmesdale suffers more than Hest er because his brand is not visible to the community, and this could be the case with the invisible brands worn by the Freshly Freed Prisoners. Even though the brands of the Freshly Freed Prisoners and Monster are not branded into their flesh, they limit their ability to exist in society. At the same time,
Reid 50 these brands prove unable to indexically sta nd for Monster. Monster should be defined by his nam e and his crime, but he demonstrates a range of emotions th at cannot be contained by his brand in Making of a Monster. Canary Mary is defined by the dress she wears in Fucking A. Not only is the dress a part of her name, but as a gift from the Ma yor, it also represents her Gilded Cage. My production gave the dress increased indexica llity by modeling it afte r Marilyn Monroes dress from The Seven Year Itch. Canary plays a pivotal role in Hesters story, but she is more connected to the outside world through her career as a prostitute. I emphasized the social distance between these two women by placing the Mayor, Canary and First Lady in their own time period. The love triangle of Fucking A was dressed to suggest JFK, Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, the mo st iconic love triangle of the 1960s. Based on this model, Canary wore a yellow version of the dress famously worn by Monroe (See Fig. 3 & 4) This dress then signified the sexua lity and objectificat ion of Canarys character. Monroe is considered a classic icon of sexuality, and Canary is certainly a classier prostitute than the Waiting Women. Yet, both are women who made a living by putting their bodies on display.
Reid 51 Figure 3: Hester and Canary Mary in Scene 1. Figure 4: Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch Source: Internet Movie Database, imdb.com First Lady was dressed as Jackie Kenn edy, but this wasn t as immediately recognizable as Canarys Monroe dress. Fi rst Ladys dress sugge sted the wealth and elegance of the wife of a modern politicia n. While the influence of Jackie Kennedy was
Reid 52 subtle, the d ress clearl y signified a late 20th century American First Lady (See Fig. 5, 6 & 7). Making the Mayor into JFK was more diffi cult. Mens attire is trickier to date, especially when worn by a female actress. I instead used a larg e badge which read Mayor to establish this connection. This technique was inspired by the way Ted Kennedy is parodied on The Simpsons. On the television show Springfields mayor is Joe Quimby, the skirt-chasing Democratic mayor of Springfield who speaks with a Boston accent, throws money at political problems, a nd vacations in a coastal resort called the Quimby Compound (Brown). The parody requ ires Quimbys character to do things which specifically mock Kennedy. Yet, Joe Qu imby is indexical of Ted Kennedy because of his Boston accent, marital infidelity and position of power in the community. Similarly, the Mayors badge in Fucking A is understood to demonstrate the Mayors unjust authority over the world of the play. His ability to lead cannot be questioned because he is undeniably the Mayor. This posit ion of authority is the important element in each of the love triangles. Canary and Fi rst Lady needed to be specific signifiers, but the Mayors role as a skirt-chasing leader is enough to suggest JFK.
Reid 53 Figure 5: First Lady (with jack et) and Monster in Scene 8. Figure 6: First Lady in Scene 2 (without jacket).
Reid 54 Figure 7: Jackie Kennedy Source: oneforthetable.com Figure 8: Mayor and Canary Mary in Scene 7.
Reid 55 Figure 9: Joe Quimby in The Simpsons. Source: thesimpsons.com While these costuming decisions point ad equately to characters social roles within the world of the play, they do not fully develop character. Mayors badge gives him authority, but he contradict s this authority with his ow n infertility. First Lady should be a poised first lady like Jackie Kennedy, but she is impregnated by Monster, an escaped convict. Similarly, Hester and Canary shoul d not be friends because of the extreme difference in their appearance (See Fig. 3). He ster and Canary are bound together by their morally unsavory, but economically advantageous professions. This bond is solidified when they join to sing Working Womans S ong. Yet, I wanted their appearances to be distinctly different. Hester uses fairly modern looking aborti on tools, but her dress needed to suggest early 19th century slavery in the United St ates. Her dress would also be the only garment which suggested slavery or a time before the 20th century. I took inspiration from the film Roots when building the dress so that He sters appearance would exemplify an antiquated kind of enslavement, but an injustice that was specifically part of American history (See Fig. 10 &11). This dress contrasts Canarys dr ess in its time period and
Reid 56 dem onstration of wealth. These two costumes onstage suggest that the wearers should be enemies, but Canary goes out of her way to help Hester purchase a picnic with her son. Here, these costumes give characters a place in society and in history, but they are unable to signify the complexities of character. Figure 10: Hester in Scene 19 (with apron). Figure 11: Monster and Hester in S cene 11 (Hester without Apron).
Reid 57 After pulling costumes from the slave plantation and from the 1960s, I opted to go with a familiar era when clothing the Hunters. I imagined the different directions I could take when clothing the Hunters. I coul d dress them as slave catchers in 19th century clothing or dress them as if they were on a Te ddy Roosevelt Safari to Africa at the turn of the century. I chose to put the Hunters in modern clothing because it was the option I considered most shocking and unsettling. Rather than government approved bounty hunters groomed to hunt and catch escaped prisoners, these men looked like rednecks with a license to kill. They dressed in t acky camouflage and t-shirts, a look which proved amusing on three girls (See Fig. 12). The Hunt ers were quite charming and funny in their outrageous and stereotypical garb. Yet, this only made their occasional references to run-throughs more shocking. And although th ey were not physically menacing, their mere presence inspires Hesters shocki ng act of violence upon her own son. Figure 12: Hunters in Scene 11. The remaining garments represented a collection of both mo dern and early 20th century clothing. Freedom Fund and Jailbait dr essed in modern clothing in order to
Reid 58 em phasize the injustice of a system in wh ich freedom can be purchased (See Fig. 13). The Waiting Women also wore modern garb to remind the audience that prostitution and abortion are still present in modern society (S ee Fig. 14). Canary Mary presents a form of prostitution in which she is the kept woman, a position which is falsely glamorized by her expensive clothing. The Waiting Women are more similar to the women exploited in recent years in the United States. The remaining costumes of Monster, the Scribe, the Butcher and the Freshly Freed Prisoners were left mostly ambiguous. The Freshly Freed Prisoners were reminiscent of the hardships men faced during the Great Depression. The other men wore timeless costumes, which made them impossible to place in any particular era. While Hester and Canary clear ly represent two distinct eras, the ensemble of characters surrounding them demonstrates a more confusing assortment of eras. Each of these eras makes suggestions as to the plays location, but allows it to remain ambiguous. Figure 13: Freedom Fund and Hester in Scene 3.
Reid 59 Figure 14: Waiting Women in Scene 14. In my production, I used costumes to manipulate the historical distance the audience felt between themselves and the so ciety onstage. I blocked songs in specific ways to manipulate the theatrical distance fe lt between these two societies. Songs in Fucking A come in varying degrees of theatri cality. Some music, such as The Entertainer in Scene 5, func tions as real sound within th e scene. Alternatively, songs like Gilded Cage require Canary to sing a s ong while Mayor stands next to her onstage, not hearing her. Rather than committing to one way of blocking songs, I chose to use tableaus and a spotlight in so me songs but not others. Songs are used by both Brecht and Parks to emphasize the metadramatic nature of their productions.7 Brecht has very specific thoughts on the kind of work songs do in an Epic Opera, as compared to the more culinary work being done in the Dramatic Opera: Dramatic Opera Epic Opera The music dishes up The music communicates 7 See Appendix B for list of Songs.
Reid 60 music which heightens the text music which sets forth the text music which proclaims the text music which takes the text for granted music which illustrates which takes up a position music which paints the which gives an attitude psychological situation (Brecht 38) Using these ideas, Brechts plays sought to avoid songs as a form of heightened speaking. Nothing is more revolting than when the actor pretends not to notice that he has left the level of plain speech and starte d to sing (Brecht 44). Brecht believed that speech, heightened speech and singing need ed to be kept separate and clearly distinguished. A 2003 Aust ralian production of The Threepenny Opera blocked performers with microphones, singing songs as if they were part of an internal and emotional struggle rather than a performanc e. There are songs such as My Vengeance and Gilded Cage which require a similar technique in Fucking A. In these solos the singer sang in a spotlight while others in the scene remained in tableau. Yet, there were songs which did not fall into Brechts conception of the epic theater as seen in The Threepenny Opera. For instance, Hunters Creed does not communicate but rather heightens the text as the Hunters randomly burst into song. The same is true in My Little Army and My Li ttle Enemy. These songs suggest that the world onstage is a world in which people burst into song, much to Brechts potential dismay. There are a variety of songs wh ich have different limitations. Songs are sometimes seen by other characters, and sometimes unseen. They sometimes furthered the plot, but often just added comedic effect. The songs in Fucking A vary in their level of theatricality and needed specific staging to convey this variance.
Reid 61 The least theatrical of the songs in Fucking A are perform ed by characters for characters in the play. These moments of song are incidental and naturalist. While Working Womans Song in Scene 10 was provi ded by the script, The Entertainer in Scene 5 and Mayor whistling in Scene 17 we re inserted during rehearsals. These moments emphasize the theatrical nature of other songs in the production by contrasting them. Later in Scene 5 the Hunters sing Hunters Creed for the audience, a significantly more theatrical song, as demonstrated when th e Hunters sing it direc tly to the audience (See Fig. 15). There were also songs I c onsidered expository because they have elements of the dramatic and epic theater. These were songs whic h explored characters and furthered plots, but they also explored more serious issues. These songs took the audience on an emotional journey and did not exist exclusively for dramatic effect. Unlike the songs of the dramatic opera, these songs and epic opera songs exist in this play as dramatic conventions, and not as an element of the world of the play. The opening song, Working Womans Song is an example of this. This first song establishes this play as a musical, but not as a world in which people sing. As Canary and Hester ponder the difficulty of their lives, they begin to e xpress it through song. This song was staged to combine the light-hearted nature of two women singing and drinki ng together, and the serious nature of the hardships they face.
Reid 62 Figure 15: Hunters sing "Hunt ers Creed" in Scene 5. The next expository song does not occur until the end of the play. Hard Times and Making of a Monster each make an em otional journey which is appreciated by the audience and the characters onstage. I expande d the emotional journey of Hard Times beyond the scripts description of the scene by giving each of the three prisoners brands, and introduced Jailbait and Monster into th e scene. This gave the scene the depth required to make this song expository. Mak ing of a Monster presented a similarly complex emotional journey. In a way, this song was the expression of Monsters heightened emotions. Yet, the song was sung to the audience and to his mother. In this way, he moved the plot by providing Hester with information, but he maintained the theatricality of the production by also singing to the audience. Songs I consider to be in spired by the dramatic opera or the epic opera are theatrical, but in very different ways. The dramatic opera uses songs to declare a world in which people sing. The first example of this is My Little Army. The Mayor sings a song about his semen with great pride and arro gance not to his wife, but to the audience.
Reid 63 He is unaware of her when he sings hi s song, but knows she has heard the song. This trad ition of arrogant characters bursting into songs continues with the Hunters. They waltz into a bar and turn dr amatically towards the audience mid-conversation and sing Hunters Creed. The song is familiar, but still an annoyance to Butcher and Scribe, who sit surrounded by the singing barbarians (See Fig. 15). I used the same staging for My Little Enemy. Here I chose to explore th e realm of the musica l comedy by asking the actors playing the Waiting Women to react to First Ladys song with annoyance, rather than as interesting plot development. The result was the juxtaposition of First Lady singing with determination and two hookers lo oking bored sitting behind her (See Fig. 16). This also undermined First Ladys curren t predicament. In any other play, a woman tricking her husband into believing an unborn child is his would be worthy of all attention. But in Fucking A, focus needs to return to the recently raped Abortionist. Figure 16: In Scene 14, First Lady Sings "My Little Enemy." Along with Gilded Cage, two others songs were unseen by other characters onstage; My Vengeance and A Meat Man is a good Man to Marry. These extremely
Reid 64 theatric al songs existed separately from th e play. Like the Aust ralian production of The Threepenny Opera, these songs offered a glimpse in to the internal thoughts of the singers. This gives these songs special metadramatic significance. In my production these songs were separated from the action of th e play through the use of a spotlight and tableau. The first two songs which used this device are designated in the text. When Canary Mary sings Gilded Cage the Mayor is onstage and does not react to the content of the song. If this song were overheard by the nearby and undressing Mayor, it would certainly evoke some sort of response. In previous scenes, Canary is presented as a crass prostitute seeking money and status wit hout regret. Moments of compassion are only directed towards Hester. Gilded Cage is a delicate and sweet song which reveals the internal frustration of living as a captive without love in exchange for money and pretty dresses. To have Mayor react to her s ong would undermine the tragic moment with comedy. The spotlight and tableau were also used for My Vengeance in which Hester is raped. Jailbait kisses her and feels her up. Hester struck dumb with grief and disbelief, lets Jailbait do what he wants. He t ouches and gropes her and she sits there, flicking at his hands from time to time as if they were flies. After a moment the action stops. Hester sings My Vengeance. (164) In this situation, I needed to use the spotlig ht and tableau to mark the difference between this song and a song like Making of a Monster, in which Hester does hear the song her son sings to her. My blocking featured Ja ilbait in tableau, ho vering over Hester and waiting. This gesture emphasizes Hesters mispla ced rage within the song. Jailbait is the
Reid 65 imm ediate threat in the scene, but Hester inst ead threatens the Rich Girl, rather than the man who claims to have killed her son. The third and final tableau is Butche rs proposal to Hester. Here there was no stage direction requiring a tableau, but I chose to insert Butcher into the spotlight and make him inaudible to Hester. My concern was how Hester would react throughout this very long song to Butchers extensive and detailed proposal. The song already promised an assortment of comedic and tragic moment s. The Butcher sings a charming and earnest song about love, marriage and meat, but his proposal is misguided and doomed. To evoke this doomed sensation, Hester fails to even hear Butcher due to her preoccupation with seeking revenge (See Fig. 17). All focus is dram atically given to Butcher as he sings an entertaining and captivating song in a s potlight. Hester looms in the background pondering the abortion she intend s to force on her unsuspectin g enemy. These three songs Guilded Cage, My Vengeance and A M eat Man is a Good Man to Marry work towards the tragic end of this play. Figure 17:Butcher sings "A Meat Man is a Good Man to Marry" to Hester.
Reid 66 The genre of my production of Fucking A was first set by the projector which displayed this slide before Scene One: Fucking A An otherworldly tale involving a noble Mother, her wayward Son, and others. Their troubled beginning, their difficult end. This description was taken from the text of th e script. By projecting this before the action of the play began, the audience was made to understand that Hester would not be happily reunited with her son without consequences. The sensation of predestined suffering is part of watching a story that is set in a tragic arena. In this case, Hester lives in a world of suffering, and the action has no alternative ending. While th e audience may enjoy some laughs along the journey, the conclusion of th is play is always looming up ahead. This description of Fucking As difficult end declares the play as tragedy with a tragic ending. Yet, there are moments in the play which suggest a comedic genre and tone. This blending of tone along with a combination of both tragic and comedic characters creates a modern tragicomedy. The modern tragicomedy features the coexistence of amusement and pity, terror and laughter (Orr 1). The tone of Fucking A varies from moment to moment. For instance, the moment in which the Mayor sings about his semen is amusing, but the rape in Scene 12 is not. My difficulty came in blending comedy and tragedy together into a cohesive plotline. Each scene had elements of these two genres and it was my task to stage each genre in a way that emphasized the power of the other. More specifically,
Reid 67 com edy needed to emphasize the tragic nature of a situation rather than detract from it. This balancing act is a feature of tragico medy. Here I needed to avoid the classical definition of tragicomedy as comedy with an unhappy ending (Bentley 319). To avoid conforming to this classical definition, Fucking A could not be a comedy which ends in infanticide. The modern tragicomedy is dra ma which is comic and tragic at the same time throughout the duration of its action (Guthke ix). Fucking A could easily be staged as a dark comedy which ends tragically. Inst ead, I chose to emphasize the tragic moments sprinkled throughout the entire play. This combination can be seen most clearly in the picnic scene, the scene of Butchers proposal the freshly freed pr isoners and the final scene. In Tragicomedy and Contemporary Culture, John Orr argues that the modern tragicomedy calls into question the conve ntions a theatre itself (Orr 1). In Fucking A, comic and tragic characters all strive to cr eate a comedic play with a comedic ending. That is, Butcher and Canary hope the play wi ll end in a wedding and Hester hopes it will end with her reunited with her son. This awar eness of genre results in a metadramatic production which does challenge the conventions of theatre itself. This struggle for a comedy is especially apparent in Scene 12 when Hester goes to meet her son for a picnic. The potential for Hesters picnic to go horri bly wrong is established early in this play. Suspense is created several sc enes before Scene 12 when the audience sees Hesters joy when she can afford to go on a picnic with her son, who the audience realizes has escaped from prison. When Hester arrives for the picn ic, she frets over whethe r to be sitting or standing when her son arrives. She sees this as a performan ce and believes that if the moment is properly staged, it will have a comic outcome.
Reid 68 While Hester believes Scene 12 is the e nd of her suffering, the audience realizes they ar e watching a comedy of errors in which a case of mistaken identities will lead to a stolen picnic. I chose to emphasize the potential comedy of this scene in my direction of Jailbait. Here I had two options in staging this char acter. He could be played as ominous and threatening, which would demonstrate He sters great willingness to see through the damage prison has done. This willingness would be lost later in the play when she is unwilling to recognize her actual son in Scene 19. Rather than staging Jailbait as a constant and persistent threat, I found it more effective to stage the picnic scene as comedic. Jailbait also sees the scene as a performance. He acts the part of Hesters son in order to steal her picnic. The whimsical nature of this scenario makes the impending rape more shocking and uncomfortable. I emphasized the whimsy of mistaken identities by creati ng a space in which Hester believed her dreams were about to be fulfilled. She arrived in a garden decorated by bright, fake flowers and laid out her pi cnic blanket (See Fig. 18). This was the only scene in which I opted to incorporate very bright colors to stress the potential joy of this scenario. Hester and Jailbait do not fit in this world of flowers and picnics (See Fig. 19). They attempt to mold themselves to the expect ations of the picnic. This comedy of errors spirals out of control when the scene turns se xual. Initially, the conf usion seems comical, although grotesquely incestuous. Then the viol ence of the world of the play floods in when Jailbait claims to have killed Monster. Up until this point in the scene, Jailbait lies and performs as a way to steal food, which is seemingly harmless. He now lies and performs to terrify Hester into submissi on. When she reacts strongly by weeping, it would seem that Jailbait may react with so me compassion. This moment while Hester
Reid 69 weeps was extrem ely important in my staging of this scene. While Hester wept, Jailbait paused for fifteen seconds with his hand on Hest ers back. This is a tragic ending to the scene and an appropriate place to end the acti on. But, the scene does not end and Jailbait asks instead You gonna gimmie some or wh at? (184) This situ ation of mistaken identities ends grotesquely, as Hester is ra ped whilst planning her mission to avenge the death of her son, who is not actually dead. Figure 18: Hester in Scene 12.
Reid 70 Figure 19: Hester and Jailbait in Scene 12. After the first Act, Hester abandons her struggle for a happy ending in exchange for a revenge plot. Parks has described Fucki ng A as a Jacobean reve nge tragedy, but this genre only becomes apparent in the second act (Smith 2). Features of this genre include her achievement of revenge through abortion, but also her inevitable downfall through the death of her son. These events are set in act when Hester focuses exclusively on the downfall of First Lady and becomes blind to the action which surrounds her. Her obsession culminates in Scene 17 when Butcher proposes to Hester. While Hester strives for a revenge tragedy, Butcher still believes this play to be a comedy that will end neatly with his marriage to Hester. I chose to stage A Meat Man is a Good Man to Marry with Butcher in a spotlight and Hester in tableau. With this staging, neither character can hear the other. This deafness emphasizes the oblivio usness of each characte r due to their blind struggle for the ending they desire. The lyrics of A Meat Man are funny and tender, but Butcher is unable to see Hesters conniving nature. Butcher then helps Hester to abort First Ladys child, thinking marriage will follow. Butcher believes He ster is still hoping
Reid 71 for a com ic ending for the play and trusts that she does not want to harm First Lady. Like Scene 12, this scene promises a comedy of errors, but the conclusion of the scene is dark and foreboding. In the script, Scene 18 simply includes three Freshly Freed Prisoners who enter, sing Hard Times and exit. I chose to expand the scene in a few different ways in order to further emphasize the problem of the pr ison system and branding. I emphasized these themes by contrasting comedic and dramatic el ements of the scene, as I did in Scene 12. As previously described, th e Freshly Freed Prisoners we re played by three women wearing false beards (See Fig. 20). They were instructed to sing in their normal singing voice, so the result was three women in beards and extremely funny. This is a metadramatic moment in which the audience is made very aware of the theatricality of the action onstage. While these three women si nging are comedic, I contrasted this with the use of Jailbait and Monster. Monster enters this performance sing ing Is there a face that knows my face? The audience now knows that Hester will not recognize her son because she failed to in Scene 10 and now be lieves he is dead. This moment is made more tragic as Jailbait crosses his path, shedding his prison uniform and going free. This continues on tragically through the use of brands. Each character wears a sign on their back, announcing their crime. The audience is reminded here that Monsters initial crime was theft. He proves sinister and unlikable, but he has been shaped by the prison system as punishment for this petty crime.
Reid 72 Figure 20: Freshly Freed Prisoners in Scene 17. Figure 21: Freshly Freed Prisoners in Scene 17. This message is heavy handed in this scene through the use of very literal branding. The Freshly Freed Prisoners wear their own brands, a lthough I put these in place to lighten the message of the scene (See Fig. 21). Monster exits and the chorus are left to end the song. The two outside men tu rn to reveal their crimes, Traitor and
Reid 73 Arsonist. The final prisoner sings the final foreboding line, If you followed m e this far, Ill just lay down and die. After this heavy-handed message, he turns to reveal his brand, A Bad Apple. This brand is sad, but at the same time, eases the tension in preparation for the very long final scene. This brand and the song Hard Times are reminiscent of a musical comedy. I chose to expand beyond the text given to demonstrate the tragic aspects found in the lyrics of Hard Times. While the scene begins with three women in drag and ends with A Bad A pple, the middle of the scene reminds the audience of the very real injust ice of the modern prison system. Scene 19 serves as the finale for the play and it ends tragically, as predicted. Hester aborts her own grandchild, kills her son and Butcher takes back his promise of marriage. Once Hester performs the abortion an d Butcher realizes the gruesome reality of Hesters profession, there is no longer a char acter striving for a comic ending. This scene is the longest in the play and it ties up all remaining plotlines with a series of tragic events, as promised by the projector at the start of the play. First Lady loses her child, Canary Mary will continue to be Mayors mistress and the Mayor is denied his heir and will probably have First Lady killed. This scen e is similar to the conclusion of a complex Jacobean revenge plot in whic h no one gets their happy ending. It is at the very end of this scene that the Hunters make their reap pearance. These grotesque characters exist in Fucking A for a comedic purpose, although their inten tions are horrible. Upon entering to claim Monsters body, they crack jokes as they have in every other scene of the play. In the light of this tragic atmosphere, the Hunters jokes are made more grotesque. While the Hunters were played by females carrying very fake weapons, the consequences of their actions are very real. To contrast th e fake violence of the Hunters and the real
Reid 74 violence of Hesters profe ssion, blood was used liberally in Scene 19. W hen Hester aborts First Ladys child, blood squirts across the screen which separates Hesters living room from the back room where she works. A nd when Hester slits Monsters throat, it is done in the audiences view with as much blood as possible. Fucking A ends in tragedy despite the strugg le of the characters for a comic ending. By balancing comedic and tragic characters and tones, this play struggles with its own theatrical conventions, as a modern trag icomedy should. The society struggles with its inability to control their fate or their brands. The play demonstrates an array of comedic and tragic characters from different eras in American history with different approaches to songs onstage. These elements declare the world as distinctly separate from the society of the audience. Yet, the audience is encouraged to realize the familiarity of the historical costume design. By recogni zing theatrical devices, the audience sees the story of Hester Smith as told through th e lens of live performance. In this way, Fucking A has created a new version of The Scarlet Letter. But, this Hester is not restricted by a Puritan community. She is instead oppressed and burdened by Ameri can history and her responsibility to be a good mother in a world where the prison system raises her son.
Reid 75 Conclusion Staging Fucking A was ambitious an d I was extremely pleased with the results. Between difficult songs and daunting special effects, Fucking A required a great cast. I was lucky enough to have excellent support a nd I achieved most of my goals in the production. I may have wished for more rehearsal time, but I would have used it to refine the final project, not change it. My approach to this whole project was ambitious. The research and investigation that led me to the conclusions in my introdu ction and first chapter left me with very complex ideas to integrate into my production of Fucking A. I believe that I could have done better things with more time and money, but I was ultimately very pleased with the audiences reaction. No one approached me afte r performances to rave about the rejection of the redemptive fantasy of The Scarlet Letter, but people did tell me how upset they were by the ending of the play. In the end, the best I could ho pe for was the audience to sympathize with Hester Smith, the Abortionist In this sympathy, the audience realized the myth of Hester Prynne. The metadramatic devices described in Chap ter Two seem to desire a great deal out of the audience. In reality, the audience join ed Hester Smith for an evening of hope and despair, comedy and tragedy. This confusion of genres caused the audience to also wish for a comic ending, despite the ominous projection which promised tragedy. This hope for a better ending is a result of the redemptive fantasy of Hester Prynne. By introducing possibility of a happy conclusion thr ough the use of comedy, my production of Fucking A forced the audience to be invested in Hester Smiths fate. Getting the audience invested in a production is always my goal. Only with an invested audience can I manipulate the
Reid 76 distan ce between their society and the soci ety onstage, asking them to question the provocations of the murderous mother today and in American history.
Reid 77 Works Cited Anderson, Lisa M. Black Feminism in Contemporary Drama. Urbana, IL: U of Illinois P, 2007. Barnett, Barbara. "M edea in the Media." Journalism: Theory, Practice, and Criticism 7.4 (2006): 411-32. Bentley, Eric. The Life of the Drama New York: Atheneum, 1964. Blosser, John. Casey Anthonys Best Friend Tells All! National Enquirer. December 29, 2008. Bsch, Susanna A. Sturdy Black Bridges" on the Am erican Stage: The Portrayal of Black Motherhood in Selected Plays by Contemporary African American Women Playwrights Aachen British and American studies, vol. 8. Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang, 1996. Carr, C. "Abortion Rites". The Village Voice March 23, 2003. Chesler, Phyllis. Woman's Inhumanity to Woman New York: Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2001. Cocalis, Jane. "The 'Dark and Abiding Presence' in Nathaniel Hawthorne's the Scarlet Letter and Toni Morrison's Beloved." The Calvinist Roots of the Modern Era Ed. Aliki Barnstone, Michael Tomasek Manson, and Carol J. Singley. Hanover, NH: UP of New England, 1997. 250-262.
Reid 78 Brecht, Ber tolt, and John Willett. Brecht on Theatre; The Development of an Aesthetic New York: Hill and Wang, 1964. Brown, John Robbie. Kennedy Backs Citys Simpsons Movie Campaign. The Boston Globe. July 2, 2007. Davis, Angela Y. Women, Race & Class 1 Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1983. Drukman, Steven. "Suzan-Lori Parks a nd Liz Diamond: Doo-A-Diddly-Dit-Dit." Re:Direction: A Theoretical and Practical Guide 352-365. London, England: Routledge, 2002. Elam, Keir. The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama London: Methuen, 1980. Elbert, Monica M. "Hester a nd the New Feminine Vision." Hester Prynne. Ed. Harold Bloom. Broomall, PA: Chelsea House, 2004. 181-202. Elbert, Monika M. "Hester's Ma ternity: Stigma Or Weapon?" ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 36 (1990): 175-207. Euripides, and Philip Vellacott. Medea, and Other Plays. The Penguin classics, L129. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1963. Foster, Verna A. "Nurturing and Murderous Mo thers in Suzan-Lori Parks's in the Blood and Fucking A." American Drama 16.1 (2007): 75-89.
Reid 79 Frank, Johanna. "Em bodied Absence and Theatrical Dismemberment." Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 21.2 (2007): 161-71. Friedman, Sharon. "Feminist Revisions of Classic Texts on the American Stage." Codifying the National Self : Spectators, Actors and the American Dramatic Text. Ed. Barbara Ozieblo and Mara Dolores Nar bona-Carrin. Brussels, Belgium: Peter Lang, 2006. 87-104. Gilmore, Michael T. Hidden in Plain Sight: The Scarlet and American Legibility. Studies in American Fiction 29.1 (Spring 2001) 121-28. Guthke, Karl Siegfried. Modern Tragicomedy; An Investi gation into the Nature of the Genre. New York: Random House, 1966. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1994. Heckenberg, Miranda. Suspensio, Introspec tion and Contradiction: The Songs of The Threepenny Opera in Rehearsal. Australiasian Drama Studies 45 (October 2004), 137-56. Jacobs, Harriet A. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1987. Morrison, Toni. Beloved: A Novel New York: Plume, 1988.
Reid 80 --Playing in the Dark : Whitene ss and the Literary Imagination. Cam bridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992. OMalley, Suzanne. Are you there alone?: the Unspea kable Crime of Andrea Yates. New: Simon& Schuster, 2004. Orr, John. Tragicomedy and Contemporary Culture: Play and Performance from Beckett to Shepard. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991. Parks, Suzan-Lori. The America Play, and Other Works New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1995. ---The Red Letter Plays. 1st ed. New York; St. Paul, MN: Theatre Communications Group, 2001. ---Venus: A Play. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1998. Person, Leland S. "The Dark Labyrinth of Mind: Hawthorne, Hester, and the Ironies of Racial Mothering." Studies in American Fiction 29.1 (2001): 33-48. Rich, Adrienne Cecile. Of Woman Born : Motherhood as Experience and Institution 1st ed. New York: Norton, 1976. Sanders, Julie. Adaptation and Appropriation. The new critical idiom. Abingdon, [England]: Routledge, 2005. Shelby Jiggetts, and Suzan-Lori Parks. "Interview with Suzan-Lori Parks." Callaloo 19.2, Emerging Women Writers: A Special Issue (1996): 309-17.
Reid 81 Sm ith, Dinitia. Tough-Minded Playwright Chooses a Tile Tough to Ignore. New York Times. March 16, 2003. nytimes.com Stimpson, Catharine R. "Do these Deaths Surpa ss Understanding? the Literary Figure of the Mother Who Murders." TriQuarterly 124 (2006): 45-62. Thompson, Debby. "Digging the Fo'-Father s: Suzan-Lori Parks's Histories ." Contemporary African American Women Playwrights. Ed. Philip C. Kolin. London, England: Routledge, 2007. 167-184. Worthen, W. B. "Citing History: Textuality a nd Performativity in th e Plays of Suzan-Lori Parks." Essays in Theatre/Etudes Thtrales 18.1 (1999): 3-22. Selected Works Consulted Bermel, Albert. Comic Agony: Mixed Impressions in the Modern Theatre. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press, 1993. Brown-Guillory, Elizabeth. "Reconfiguring History: Migration, Memory, and (Re) Membering in Suzan-Lori Parks's Plays." Southern Women Playwrights: New Essays in Literary History and Criticism. Tuscaloosa, AL: U of Alabama P, 2002. 183-197. Corrigan, Robert W Comedy, Meaning and Form San Francisco: Chandler Pub. Co, 1965. Lundskaer-Nielsen, Miranda. Directors and the New Musical Drama: British and American Musical Theatre in the 1980s and 90s. New York, N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
Reid 82 Elam Harry J.,Jr. "The Postmulticultural: A Tale of Mothers and Sons." Crucible of Cultures: Anglophone Drama at the Dawn of a New Millennium. Ed. Marc Maufort and Franca Bellarsi. Brussels, Belgium: Peter Lang, 2002. 113-128. "For the First Time, the Drama Pulitzer Goes to a Black Woman." The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education .36 (2002): 60. Fraden, Rena. "A Mid-Life Critical Crisis: Chiastic Criticism and Encounters with the Theatrical Work of Suzan-Lori Parks." Journal of American Drama and Theatre 17.3 (2005): 36-56. Geis, Deborah R. "Hawthorne's Hester as a Red-Lettered Black Woman? Suzan-Lori Parks's in the Blood and Fucking A." Journal of American Drama and Theatre 16.2 (2004): 77-87. Grant, Sinikka. "Haunted He ritage: History, Memory, and Violence in the Drama of August Wilson and Suzan-Lori Parks." Dissertation Abstracts International, Section A: The Humanities and Social Sciences 67.7 (2007): 2577-. Grossman, Jay. "'A' is for Abolition?: Race, Authorship, the Scarlet Letter." Textual Practice 7.1 (1993): 13-30. Hill, Errol, and James Vernon Hatch. A History of African American Theatre Cambridge, U.K. ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Reid 83 Innes, Christopher. "Staging Black History: Re-Im agining Cultural Icons." Race and Religion in Contemporary Thea tre and Drama in English. Ed. Bernhard Reitz Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher, 1999. 95-107. Koloze, Jeff. "Twentieth-Century Science Fiction Literature and the Right to Life Issues of Abortion, Infanticide, and Euthanasia." Life and Learning XV: Proceedings of the Fifteenth University Faculty for Life Conference at Ave Maria Law School 200 5. Ed. S. J. Koterski Joseph W. Washington, DC: University Faculty for Life, 2006. 379402. Lee, Sun Hee Teresa. "Unnatu ral Conception: (Per)Forming History and Historical Subjectivity in Suzan-Lori Parks's the America Play and Venus." Journal of American Drama and Theatre 19.1 (2007): 5-31. Roots. Dir. Margulies, Stan, William Blinn, M. Charles Cohen, et al. Warner Home Video, 2007. Reese, La Tanya L. "Black Surrogacy: Refiguring Myth, Memory, and Motherhood in Suzan-Lori Parks' the America Play, Topdog/Underdog and in the Blood Dissertation Abstracts International, Sec tion A: The Humanities and Social Sciences 66.11 (2006): 4027. Ryan, Katy. "'no Less Human': Making History in Suzan-Lori Parks's the America Play." Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 13.2 (1999): 81-94.
Reid 84 Schafer, Carol. "Questions of Cultura l Identity on the Contemporary Stage." The Theater of Teaching and the Lessons of Theater. Ed. Domnica Radulescu and Maria Stadter Fox. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2005. 45-52. W ilt, Judith. Abortion, Choice, and Contemporary Fiction : The Armageddon of the Maternal Instinct. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Reid 85 Appendix A Summary of Scenes in Fucking A Act One: Scene 1 Hester Smith and Canary Mary discuss th eir dislike for First Lady over drinks in Hesters home. Canary gives Hester money to put towards a picnic with Monster. Figure 22: Hester stares at a gold coin while Canary reads her a letter from Monster.
Reid 86 Scene 2 Mayor blam es First lady for her infertility. Figure 23: Mayor and First Lady Scene 3 Hester goes to the Freedom Fund with her gold coin. She learns her sons price has risen due to misbehavior. Figure 24: Freedom Fund and Hester
Reid 87 Scene 4 Monster, escaped from prison meets Canary Mary at a park bench in the middle of nowhere. He flirts with her, but is rejected. Figure 25: Monster shows Canary his scar. Scene 5 The Hunters brag to Butcher and Scribe of their plan to tortur e and kill the recently escaped Monster. Hester enters looking for th e Scribe and is prot ected from the Hunters by Butcher. Figure 26: Hunters si ng "Hunters Creed"
Reid 88 Figure 27: Hunters smell Hester Approaching Scene 6 Hester meets First Lady on the st reet and accosts her with TALK. Figure 28: Hester shouting and First Lady
Reid 89 Scene 7 Canary tries to convince Mayor to m arry her. He confesses that after killing his wife, he will keep Canary as his mistress but will have to marry another woman to maintain the image of his office. Figure 29: Canary offers to kill First Lady Scene 8 Monster meets First Lady at the bench in the middle of nowhere. He successfully seduces her. Figure 30: First Lady kisses Monster
Reid 90 Scene 9 Butcher talks with Hester about his daughter and her long list of crim es. He tells Hester he likes her and the two hold hands. He s hows her how to slaughter a pig. Rom ance ensues. Figure 31: Butcher teaches Hest er how to slaughter a pig. Scene 10 Monster robs Hesters home. She does not reco gnize him, but he recognizes a scar on her arm.
Reid 91 Figure 32: Monster threatens Hester Scene 11 Hunters discuss the different techniques they will us e to torture Monster. Figure 33: Hunters describe a "Run-Through" Scene 12 Hester goes to the prison for her picnic with her son, but the prison sends Jailbait in his place. He pretends to be her son in order to ea t the picnic, but later claims to have killed Monster. While Hester mourns her son and pl ans her revenge, she is raped by Jailbait.
Reid 92 Figure 34: Hester and Jailbait Act Two Scene 13 First Lady tells Monster she is pregnant. Monster threatens her and demands money. Figure 35: Monster threatens First Lady Scene 14 First Lady and Waiting Women wait for abortions outside Hesters home. First Lady decides to keep the child by te lling the Mayor it is his.
Reid 93 Figure 36: First Lady Si ngs "My Little Enemy" Scene 15 Canary bathes Hester, who is still traumatized by the picnic. Hester convinces Canary to help her seek out her revenge on First Lady. Figure 37: Canary bathes Hester Scene 16 Hunters continue their search for Monster.
Reid 94 Figure 38: Hunters Scene 17 Hester learns First Lady is pregnant. Butcher proposes. Hester agrees to marry him if he helps kidnap First Lady. Figure 39: Butcher proposes to Hester Scene 18 Three Freshly Freed Prisoners and Monster sing Hard Times
Reid 95 Figure 40: Singing "Hard Times" Scene 19 Monster returns to Hesters home to convince her that he is her son. She does not believe him and forces him to leave at gunpoint. Canary and Butcher bring First Lady to Hester, who performs an abortion. Butcher realizes the dark side of Hesters profession. Once Hester is alone again, she realizes Monste r is her son and prepares to go looking for him. He arrives at her door wounded from a dog bite and with the Hunters close behind him. Hester kills slits his throat to save him. The Hunters enter and take Monsters body. Hester returns to work.
Reid 96 Figure 41: Butcher and Canary Mary carry First Lady Figure 42: Butcher realizes Hester has pe rformed an abortion on First Lady.
Reid 97 Figure 43: Hester and Monster compare matching scars. Figure 44: Hester kills Monster
Reid 98 Figure 45: The Hunters come to take Monster's body.
Reid 99 Appendix B Songs in Fucking A (In order of performance) Working Womans SongHester, Canary My Little ArmyMayor The EntertainerPianist The Hunters CreedHunters Gilded CageCanary Mary Working Womans Song (a cappella)Hester My VengeanceHester My Little EnemyFirst Lady My Little Army (whistled)Mayor A Meat Man is a Good Man to MarryButcher Hard TimesFreshly Freed Prisoners and Monster The Making of a MonsterMonster Working Womans Song (Reprise)Hester
Reid 100 Fucking A Program If given more time to prepare for the perf ormance, the program would have been the first thing to be improved. Making the programs was a task thrown at me the night before opening night, and I think it shows here. There are many people I would have thanked and I instead had to wait to give them my appr eciation in the acknowledgments of my thesis Ideally, I would have also included a discussion of infanticide and Suzan-Lori Parkss use of history to prepare the audience. This background would have made my intentions as described in Chapter Two clearer. But, having run out of time, the production had to speak for itself.
In loving memory of Pete. A special thanks to Alex Bishop and Patrick Young for their unending support in the wee hours of the morning.
The last thing American theatr e needs is another lame play. -Suzan-Lori Parks Alison Reid (Director) directs plays so she can make costumes and play with blood. She intended to give you background info on Suzan-Lori Parks and the Red Letter Plays but will instead just say she really, really likes this play and hopes you do too. Faith Benamy (Stage Manager) Susanna Payne-Passmore (Piano/ Badass Chick who taught everyone their music) is a first ye ar with a possible AOC in music. She is easily distracted by s quirrels and hopes no one brought any to the performance tonight. Dayna Lazarus (Hester Smith) is a second year and is undecided in her field of study. Sarah Gregory (Canary Mary/ Freshly Fr eed Prisoner) is a second year studying Psychology/Theatre Her favorite movie is Dirty Dancing and she loves baby animals. She dreams of a day when prostitution is legal so she can bring her onstage role into her everyday life. She wants to be your friend. Myranda Pierce (First Lady/ Freshly Freed Prisoner) exists. We can only assume. Alex Power Cline (Monster Smith), Fancy is a 3rd Year History AOC, rocker, New Neo-Futurist, corduroy enthusiast, space cowboy poet, and noble savage. You may remember him from his recent portrayal of the Dark Lord Satan in Suzanne Mooneys Interactive Hell House Extravaganza and his failed presidential bid with Mr. Aaron Strength Amra m, Esquire. He is still very disappointed with all of you over that. Many thanks to New New Wave, good friends, and free stuff Jasmine Crenshaw (Mayor/ Freshly Freed Prisoner) J-Dizzle is an invasive species that hails from Iceland. She is proud of her manly chest hair. House trained free to a good home. Patrick Young (Butcher) is not a student here, but he works in the ETS department, so its okay. Hes the butchiest butcher ever to butch a butch. Becca Furlow (Hunter/ Freedom Fund)Becca is a first year with an AOC in cryptozoology. She was raised by a herd of antelope who taught her telekinesis. She f ills in her unibrow daily with black sharpie, and she enjoys playin g the sitar in her free time. Her main goal in life is to create a politically-conscious meerkat circus in Djibouti. Rose Marz (Hunter/ Waiting Woman) is a first year literature student. She loves pia coladas a nd getting caught in the rain and non-romantic things like perfor ming abortions during the month of January. Kirsten Wood (Hunter/ Waiting Woman/ Guard) is more efficient than you. Nathan Howell (Scribe/ Jailbait) is a first year with an interest in political science. He likes to do controversial thin gs in public. He also enjoys spoiling the ends of movies. Beware. Sherise Gamble (Technician) is a first year with an AOC in art/literature. She part-times as a napkin and wishes she had a fanciful mustache. She likes the color blue, though it is not her favorite. Oh man, I hope this play isnt lame -Alison Reid
Reid 102 Advertising Campaign for Fucking A I directed C hristopher Durangs Baby With the Bathwater as an ISP my second year. This definitely prepared me for the difficult task of directing a thesis play. One of the weaknesses of this production wa s advertising. This is why I developed a rather elaborate poster campaign to get New College students to see Fucking A. Two Weeks before Performance: -A series of teaser posters which simply featured exciting quotes from the play One Week before Performance: -Second round of teaser posters which feature song lyrics -Large posters made by cast hung in Ham ilton Center and Lounges (not included) Week of Performance: -Posters featuring photos of the production -Flyers based on Butchers Monologue in Scen e 9 to be dispersed in Hamilton Center -Banner Hung on College Hall (not included, but consisted of a large sheet painted with finger paint to direct non-st udents to the performance)
.i said i woulda killed you and i woulda .just so you know A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks January 30 & 31 7:00 College Hall Music Room
she .s expecting but she .s not expecting this A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks January 30 & 31 7:00 College Hall Music Room
But then to see, under the microscope, all those little men swimming. An army! My own little private army! A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks January 30 & 31 7:00 College Hall Music Room
And her pussy? Her pussy is so disgusting, so slack, so very very completely dried out. A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks January 30 & 31 7:00 College Hall Music Room
This kind of cut is completely painless. A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks January 30 & 31 7:00 College Hall Music Room
Fucking A A musical By Suzan-lori Parks Their troubles yr livelihood, Hester. January 30 & 31 7:00 College Hall Music Room Refreshments Provided
Fucking A A musical By Suzan-lori Parks Murder, necrophilia, sodomy, bestiality pedophilia, armed robbery, petty theft, embezzlement, diddling in public, and cannibalism January 30 & 31 7:00 College Hall Music Room Refreshments Provided
Fucking A A musical By Suzan-lori Parks Everybodys got a mom. Even you. January 30 & 31 7:00 College Hall Music Room Refreshments Provided
Fucking a A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks Directed by Alison Reid Friday and Saturday @ 7 College Hall Music Room Fucking a A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks Directed by Alison Reid Friday and Saturday @ 7 College Hall Music Room Fucking a A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks Directed by Alison Reid Friday and Saturday @ 7 College Hall Music Room Fucking a A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks Directed by Alison Reid Friday and Saturday @ 7 College Hall Music Room Fucking a A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks Directed by Alison Reid Friday and Saturday @ 7 College Hall Music Room Fucking a A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks Directed by Alison Reid Friday and Saturday @ 7 College Hall Music Room Fucking a A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks Directed by Alison Reid Friday and Saturday @ 7 College Hall Music Room Fucking a A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks Directed by Alison Reid Friday and Saturday @ 7 College Hall Music Room Fucking a A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks Directed by Alison Reid Friday and Saturday @ 7 College Hall Music Room Fucking a A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks Directed by Alison Reid Friday and Saturday @ 7 College Hall Music Room Fucking a A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks Directed by Alison Reid Friday and Saturday @ 7 College Hall Music Room Fucking a A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks Directed by Alison Reid Friday and Saturday @ 7 College Hall Music Room Fucking a A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks Directed by Alison Reid Friday and Saturday @ 7 College Hall Music Room Fucking a A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks Directed by Alison Reid Friday and Saturday @ 7 College Hall Music Room Fucking a A musical by Suzan-Lori Parks Directed by Alison Reid Friday and Saturday @ 7 College Hall Music Room
You are charged with: General Physical Underdevelopment You are charged with: Overdue shit at the LendingSpot. You are charged with: Standing on one leg in a 2-legged zone. You are charged with: Smiling in the off-season. You are charged with: Admitting to participating in a boondoggle. You are charged with: Not saluting the authorities. You are charged with: Aiding and Abetting a forest fire. You are charged with: Hanging upside down in a public place. You are charged with: Murder in the nth degree. You are charged with: Defacing animates and intimates alike. You are charged with: Fornicating with the Other. You are charged with: Obscene phone calls. You are charged with: Defaming the name of the State. You are charged with: Walking in the rain without a flashlight. You are charged with: Leading unsuspecting men and women into cyberspace and leaving them there lost without a roadmap.