California Repertory’s rendition of “In The Blood” offers a modern and terrifyingly realistic interpretation of “The Scarlet Letter.” The exquisite blend of lighting, sound and props immerse the audience into a cruel and unforgiving world of poverty.
“In the Blood” is set in 19th century New York and follows the life of a black single mother, Hester La Negrita, and her five bastard children as she tries to pull her family out of poverty.
The use of props in the play is well executed, establishing a gritty and realistic tone. Upon entering the theater, the audience is transported to a harsh and judgmental world as they are met with the word “SLUT” painted across the set’s wall, a loud and jarring introduction to Hester’s reputation in the town. Dirty furniture, trash and baskets are strewn all over the floor. The authenticity of the stage design paired with an intense performance engages the audience to pay close attention to the action onstage.
The use of double casting created a mirror-like effect between Hester’s children and their adult counterparts. Intense performances from double-casted actors created a feeling of disgust for many of the adult characters that ostracize Hester, the play’s protagonist. Similarities between “In The Blood” and “The Scarlet Letter” are noticeably direct in the production. The overarching theme of judgment and incapacity to change are explicit through excellent performances from the six-piece cast.
Sound and light work together to elevate and emphasize performances. An ominous sound plays and the lights dim to red each time a character breaks the fourth wall, grasping the attention of the audience. Seeing the same actors play their adult counterparts created an interesting dynamic that encouraged the audience to make connections between diametrically opposed characters.
The play unfolds on a thrust stage where the audience is arranged in three sections that surround the stage, allowing for a more intimate and personal experience between audience and actors. Though this setting is typically used for interactive performances, there was limited direct interaction with the audience in this production. However, the space’s format engulfs the audience into the play, making it seem as though they are part of the story without actually interacting with the actors. Uneasy scenes in the production created a palpable awkwardness felt among the audience especially because of the thrust stage format.
A collection of the lighting mixed with the sound effects of sirens and loud crescendos on top of the stunning use of set design created a vivid and disturbing production that leaves audiences feeling empathy for the production’s realistic characters that may exist in our everyday life.
“In the Blood” is playing at the Player’s Theater until March 1. Tickets start are $23 for general admission and $18 for students. They can be purchased online or at the box office in the Theater Arts Building.