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The Red Letter Plays: In the Blood

From 23 critic and 103 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Absorbing, Great staging, Relevant, Great writing

About the show

Signature Theatre presents Pulitzer winner Suzan-Lori Parks' modern-day riff on 'The Scarlet Letter,' in which a penniless mother of five is condemned by the men who love her. Featuring Tony nominee Saycon Sengbloh. More…

Produced together for the first time and running in rep, Parks' 'The Red Letter Plays: Fucking A & In the Blood' explode our ideas of love, society, sex, and power with wit and fearlessness. Hester turns to former lovers, friends, and the institutions meant to support her, only to be spurned by them all with devastating consequences. Directed by Obie winner Sarah Benson.

Talkin' Broadway

"'In the Blood' grabs you by the throat from the moment it begins and does not let up for the next two hours...'In the Blood,' brilliantly helmed by director Sarah Benson, hits all of the marks and absolutely makes the case for why the Pulitzer Prize-winning Parks is considered to be one of our great contemporary playwrights. And if we are paying attention, we must understand that we are being asked to consider what role we can/should be playing in helping those who are society's cast-offs." Full Review

Theatre is Easy

“The play has lost none of its relevance or bite…Parks’ distinctive wit and rhetoric soar spectacularly…Becoming emotionally invested in the characters is effortless, which is why their circumstances become particularly heart-wrenching as the play goes on...Benson’s direction is a perfect vehicle for Parks’ work, as she is able to bring out the most calculating and vulnerable moments of her actors...A harrowing yet compelling production.” Full Review

The New York Times

"A first-rate revival...Plays with theatrical traditions and the expectations that come with them...'The Red Letter Plays' allow us a chance to consider the extraordinary and elusive talent of Parks, a dramatist who seems to reinvent the form with every new offering...Benson reins in the hectoring and melodrama. Each performance is both subtly stylized and naturalistic enough for us to identify the characters as people we know." Full Review


"It is an unremittingly dark and hopeless tale and yet, there's something poetically gut-wrenching in its picture of a living hell...Hester's story turns into a harrowing Greek tragedy...While Hester's story remains downbeat and still proves its continuing reality courtesy of our large homeless population, 'In the Blood' is a stirring, highly recommended theatrical experience." Full Review

AM New York

"'In the Blood' is the more serious and sensitive of the two plays...In spite of some slow patches (including confessional monologues), Sarah Benson’s two-hour, intermission-free production has a scorching brutality...Each production is an outstanding staging of a bold, difficult and provocative work. When viewed together, 'The Red Letter Plays' proves to be one of the most interesting and rewarding theater events of the fall." Full Review

Theater Life

"Both productions sock you in the gut with their visceral and violent imagery, but I would have to give a slight edge to director Benson’s imaginative interpretation of Parks’ vision with 'In the Blood'...The characters are symbolic...but Benson and a sensitive cast makes these allegorical figures into living, breathing people. The physical production is also arresting...Saycon Sengbloh is luminous and heartbreaking as the downtrodden Hester." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Seizes you from the get-go...The play premiered in 1999, but now, with homelessness at record levels in NYC and a national backslide in women’s reproductive rights, it seems perhaps even more relevant. Its urgency is heightened by director Benson’s relentless pace and the ensemble cast’s unfettered performances...Parks’ scathing indictment of how society treats impoverished women gets your pulse pumping even as it breaks your heart." Full Review

Front Row Center

"Ms. Parks and her director, Sarah Benson, have drawn on a vast array of influences to create this captivating revival...Ms. Bioh stops the show cold when she transforms into Hester’s self-absorbed and wickedly perverse welfare lady...Only the usually great Frank Wood, who normally excels at neurotic villainy, has yet to find the proper vibe...Ms. Sengbloh’s finely measured performance reaches just the right bloody crescendo." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"Parks rages incisively, articulately, and sometimes even humorously against the capitalist machine...It’s not subtle, but Parks isn’t going for subtlety so much as confrontation...As Hester, Sengbloh gives a performance both innocent and frightening—and finally, devastating...Something special is happening right now at Signature Theatre...The plays are not easy to watch, but they’re vital, scrappy, angry, witty, articulate." Full Review

Magical MissTari Tour

"An overwhelming, wonderful, theatrical, human experience...I was appalled, devastated, exhilarated and amazed...I felt powerless, enraged, emboldened, and understood. Incredible...The monologues are chilling and scary, and oh so sad...The powerlessness of women, the lack of support for single mothers, and an uncaring bureaucracy all make the experience of watching ‘In the Blood’ completely timely and timeless. The acting is all superb." Full Review

Broadway Blog

“'In the Blood'…is the more successful of the pair…both as a script and in performance. Under the expert direction of the gifted Sarah Benson…it does a far better job of mingling realism and allegorical stylization to tell its tale than its partner. 'Fucking A' is also highly theatrical but its acting draws attention to itself and away from reality; the actors in 'In the Blood' never lose their sincerity… Dominating the ensemble is Sengbloh's touching, palpably suffering, turn.” Full Review


"A solid remounting...Takes on the style of Greek tragedy, though, especially in director Sarah Benson's production, reality is raised to near-absurdist proportions. The heart-tugging Saycon Sengbloh stars...With America's current leaders looking to severely limit the government assistance made available to people like Hester, 'In the Blood' has sadly lost none of its relevance." Full Review


"Almost 20 years after Parks wrote these two plays, the festering wound of the abortionist in 'F—ing A' and the hateful name that drove an earth mother to violence in 'In the Blood'—and more than 150 years after Hawthorne wrote 'The Scarlet Letter: A Romance'—the same words, the same symbols, the same damning letter can still make women weep with shame and rage...Saycon Sengbloh gives a remarkable performance." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"A first-rate production...With great (if not always economic) precision and a seemingly hard-earned wisdom, Parks reminds us how judgmental and unfair society-at-large can be to anyone, but especially to poor, minority women...Part of Parks’ accomplishment is that she never idealizes Hester...In the end, we’re left to ponder: Is Hester’s tragedy her fault, the result of societal indifference, or mere inevitability? The blood goes to your head thinking about it." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"Hester, played with consummate understatement by Saycon Sengbloh, clearly has no hope of escaping her Dickensian lot...Unlike Dickens, 'In the Blood' never flirts with sentimentality. One scene depicting the return of a former lover seems a little belabored, but director Sarah Benson otherwise creates a winningly anarchic atmosphere full of offbeat comic touches...Bursts of theatrical energy ensure that 'In the Blood’s' social critique never feels heavy-handed." Full Review


"Powerful pieces...The connection to Hawthorne is subtle, resting mostly on the ideas of class distinction and human suffering...Hester is played with a driving force by Sengbloh...Parks describes these works as 'sister plays,' but really they’re about mothers, and the choices they must make to protect their children from all that life throws at them. Any mother will relate." Full Review

The Wrap

"A spirited and stirring revival...Mean words are Parks’ stock in trade in this piercing study of a society that exploits its underclass...Benson orchestrates both the onstage action and the brisk transitions between scenes with admirable grace...Parks’ writing is sharp and nuanced despite the fact that her characters are mostly nameless archetypes...She manages to avoid the trap of fetishizing Hester’s predicament...Parks makes Hester’s suffering compelling, clear-eyed, and utterly horrifying." Full Review

Stage Buddy

"Sengbloh’s performance is pure American realism. Her Hester is as authentic a person as the homeless woman living on the street...What’s perhaps most uncomfortable and also admirable about 'In the Blood' is that you’re presented with a protagonist who society tells you not to sympathize with...However, the theatrical space gives you permission to think these thoughts while simultaneously presenting a parallel narrative, one that challenges notions of how society 'should' be run." Full Review


"A searing revival...Parks probes the limits of our tolerance as a society...Parks' Brechtian proclivities mean that her astute social points are often underlined with a Sharpie. This is especially true during the confessional monologues delivered by each character. Some of the actors struggle to hold our attention in these moments as a drama becomes a lecture. The performances are otherwise excellent under Sarah Benson's steady direction." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"Even if 'In the Blood' conjures a potent dramatic situation that speaks acutely and fearlessly to the present moment, it falls short of being a fully realized play, preferring to reiterate the same points in confrontation after confrontation. Still, Saycon Sengbloh is a heartbreaking figure of endurance as Hester...Whatever one's feelings about these plays, they certainly provide confirmation -- if any was needed -- that Parks has plenty to say about female power and sexuality." Full Review

Gotham Playgoer

"As Hester struggles to get by, she is betrayed by all the people who should be helping her...Unfortunately, the same actors must also play Hester’s children. Adults playing children is not a pretty sight...The entire play seemed more than a bit schematic. The lack of subtlety in the writing is emphasized by the metaphorical set design...The costumes by Montana Levi Blanco are imaginative." Full Review

Off Off Online

"'In the Blood,' for all its creativity, is a primarily cerebral affair. It’s impossible not to care because the story is all too reminiscent of a million others, but with its cartoonish characterizations and blunt metaphors, it forecloses the possibility of empathy and feeling. A Parks play is always memorable and never formulaic, but at an intermissionless 110 minutes, 'In the Blood' starts to feel more like homework than performance." Full Review


"I have always felt that eliciting empathy from the audience highlights and focuses metatheatrical alienation rather than distracting from it: cold derives its meaning from heat, distance from closeness. Here, we only see Hester from very far away, we only hear her in monotone. When the curtain falls, she is covered in the blood of her favorite child. I felt nothing." Full Review

Clever, Great acting, Must see, Entertaining, Great staging

See it if You want to see timely clever theater

Don't see it if There is no reason not to see this play. It was excellent.

Great acting, Intelligent, Relevant, Great writing, Great staging

See it if You are ready to leave with your insides shaking.

Don't see it if You want light entertainment.

Absorbing, Great acting, Masterful, Great writing, Great staging

See it if you like serious dramas performed by high-caliber actors. Saycon Sengbloh is phenomenal and the beautifully written play is Pulitzer worthy.

Don't see it if you prefer "safe" works or are turned off by stories of people in low places, struggling for survival.

Great acting, Masterful, Must see, Profound, Great writing

See it if You like thought-provoking plays with extraordinary acting

Don't see it if You don't want to be challenged when you go to the theater and like your entertainment light and breezy

Absorbing, Clever, Intelligent, Must see, Great writing

See it if Phenomenally created, both in design, writing, and acting. One of the best shows I've seen at the Signature. Riveting, thoughtful, masterful

Don't see it if You want a more fluffy, fun, show where you don't have to think. This is a serious work of art.

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Great staging

See it if you're interested in plays about social issues and like innovative stagings that manage to avoid gimmickry

Don't see it if you don't want to be presented with tough issues without being given a tidy resolution

Absorbing, Edgy, Great acting, Intense

See it if Terrific acting and very exciting staging. It is a tough storyline, but poignant & I felt very swept into it.

Don't see it if Adverse to blood and hard truths shown in a very dramatic way.

Absorbing, Intelligent, Intense, Profound, Relevant

See it if you like works that address real-life problems of the underprivileged and want to see an excellent treatment of the subject.

Don't see it if you're not in the mood for a serious play.

Funny, Absorbing, Intelligent, Resonant, Great writing

See it if you enjoy seeing a smartly written play where the societal issues of the day are very effectively presented.

Don't see it if Small productions with a humorously told depressing story is not your thing.

Intense, Thought-provoking, Masterful, Profound, Relevant

See it if Class structure of modern society as experienced by a rebellious welfare mother. Hypocrisy abounds. Deep writing, great set.

Don't see it if You don't want to explore the ugliness of human nature. Includes seamy explicit sexual dialog.

Also This is a brilliant play with a lot to say. In addition to the powerfu... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Resonant, Great directing

See it if you want to see a brilliant ensemble brilliantly directed in a smart, thought-provoking and ultimately heartbreaking story.

Don't see it if you're not interested in stories about how a good person mistreated by the system and loved ones can turn sour.

Depressing, Great writing, Real

See it if You want to see something that challenges what society views on women, the system, education, and poverty in America

Don't see it if you don't like sitting through a 2 hour play without intermission, don't like seeing children being played by adults

Ambitious, Intense, Thought-provoking, Masterful, Great writing

See it if outstanding performances from a seasoned cast. interesting staging- interesting concept to riff on the scarlet A- not usual wordsmith Parks

Don't see it if if you cannot sit for 2 hours without an intermission. if Suzan Lori Parks is not your taste

Absorbing, Great acting, Masterful, Profound, Great writing

See it if you care about the world you live in and the people around you. This play will shatter your thinking of the less fortunate.

Don't see it if you object to strong language or live in an ideal world because this one is anything but. Be warned, it runs almost 2 hours without a break.

Ambitious, Edgy, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if Parks' Brechtian fable of welfare mother/outcast in society as trenchant as ever Strong ensemble w/Benson's fierce staging illuminates tale

Don't see it if Unrelenting misery/injustice hard to take but that's the point Adult actors as children/infants bit rocky Monologues somewhat heavyhanded

Great acting, Intelligent, Relevant, Resonant, Great staging

See it if watching a character being used, lied to, unable to escape from the grips of others seeking to profit off the situation

Don't see it if depicting the brutality of what the haves can do to the have nots can be disturbing

Great acting, Intelligent, Intense, Relevant, Great staging

See it if you're looking for a socially relevant dramatic play. More serious tone than Fucking A, great acting/direction and interesting staging.

Don't see it if you're not in the mood for something bleak. It is a depressing look at a welfare mom. Adult actors playing kids can be off-putting at first

Great acting, Profound

See it if Well acted. Typical story of a woman without skills and the only way to support her brood is to ne a whore.

Don't see it if If it bothers you to see a man of the cloth taking advantage of the,situation. ppl

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Resonant, Great writing

See it if You're interested in topical plays that, though written years ago, are still very relevant today.

Don't see it if Topics like homelessness & promiscuity are too rough for you to handle, no matter the larger message.

Absorbing, Edgy, Intelligent, Intense, Great staging

See it if you're into plays that discuss social issues at their core, like a balance of fun and darkness

Don't see it if you're looking for something "classic" or you dislike plays with off-beat structure.

Ambitious, Edgy, Great acting, Intense, Great writing

See it if you want to see a masterful depiction of life in the lower depths of modern society. Some vivid connections to The Scarlet Letter.

Don't see it if you have a problem with viewing negative plotlines and characters.

Also Wow! Can Suzan-Lori Parks write!.. Some of the language is so poetic -... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Intense, Relevant, Great staging

See it if very moving & disturbing story of an unmarried mother of 5 living in poverty & exploited even by those whose job is to help

Don't see it if you don't want actors playing dual roles - adults & children; very disturbing end

Also Saycon Sengbloh as the mother was excellent.... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Edgy, Great acting, Intelligent, Relevant

See it if you enjoy politically conscious theater, you are not looking for entertainment, care about race, sex and culture

Don't see it if you want cheerful, entertaining theater.

Absorbing, Clever, Masterful, Great writing

See it if you love SLP. This work as well as Fucking A were both brilliant productions of these pieces

Don't see it if you don't like SLP.... which there is something wrong if you don't

Great acting, Riveting, Great writing, Strong ensemble

See it if You are looking for dramas that explore the place of the poor and homeless in our world.

Don't see it if You are looking for light or fluffy.