Suzan-Lori Parks’s “In the Blood” blasts us as a vehicle for the outstanding Saycon Sengbloh, who dominates the play explosively as Hester La Negrita. Hester is a woman for the ages, a struggling victim who lives under a bridge and barely survives, emotionally as well as physically.
She is a mother of five and thoroughly battered by life. Parks makes her a symbol of those cast aside by society and condemned to poverty. Hester becomes a stand-in for the have-nots, the homeless and desperate, who populate our rich society.
Louisa Thompson has contributed a set design that accentuates the play’s symbolism. A corner of the stage is loaded with debris, but the major portion consists of a large sloping wall that cannot be fully climbed. One starts going up then slides back to earth. It can sometimes seem like fun, yet the impossibility of rising to the top is always frustratingly there.
All of the cast members except Sengbloh play more than one role. There are Hester’s children and a doctor, a reverend, a friend, a worker, a welfare lady etc. Praise goes to Jocelyn Bioh, Michael Braun, Russell G. Jones, Ana Reeder amd Frank Wood for their assorted portrayals.
Hester is subjected to a stream of pressures, such as consenting to a request for oral sex. There is no way out for her. A ray of hope is a proposal of marriage, but that disintegrates when the would-be suitor realizes that Hester has not been truthful to him.
The play is interrupted at times with direct speeches to the audience, labeled Confessions, by different characters, culminating in one by Hester. She works into a frenzy, as if appealing to the gods, and one becomes even more aware of how good an actress Sengbloh is within the great opportunity Parks has given her to show it. The forthright manner of Sarah Benson’s direction re-enforces Sengbloh’s performance. To say that the play is depressing is an understatement, but art must sometimes be upsetting to make a playwright’s point. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Reviewed September 24, 2017.