Suzan-Lori Parks’ F**king A at the Signature Theatre is about Hester (Christine Lahti), a mother and an abortionist who cares only about her son (Brandon Victor Dixon), yet when he shows up after thirty years, she doesn’t recognize him. When she pays money to have a picnic with him (Ben Horner), again she doesn’t recognize him, even though he is vastly different. Due to not recognizing this, she gets used and raped. Then, when he shows up, all of a sudden, she has a feeling, even though he has been there before.
F**king A is one of two “riffs” by Parks on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, in which Hester, is forced to wear a red “A” because she has committed adultery in a puritanical society.
Though F**king A is about class barriers, characters are named by their social roles, ie: The Mayor (Marc Kudisch), Butcher (Raphael Nash Thompson), The First Lady (Elizabeth Stanley), Jailbait (Ben Horner) and Monster (Brandon Victor Dixon). When the female characters speak about things that involve sex, menstruation, abortions or gossip, they have their own language, which is projected onto the wall and when language runs out, we get snippets of songs, which are very Brecht like. The original music and lyrics are also by Parks and played on instruments by this talented cast.
In a small town in the middle of nowhere, Hester (a very Mrs. Lovett like Christine Lahti) branded “A” oozes as she aborts the unwanted. Her best friend, Canary Mary (a truly wonderful Joaquina Kalukakango), is the town prostitute, who is currently the “possession” of the Mayor. They both hold professions that are looked down upon, but Mary has found a way to rise above the deadening of spirit and takes a thrill in her lifestyle. Hester lost her son due to a robbery much like Les Miserables, and it was the mayor’s wife who as a long girl turned her three-year-old child in and was subsequently sent to prison.
In the meantime, The Mayor (Kudisch) wants to bump off his infertile rich wife. The Hunters (J. Cameron Barnett, Ben Horner, and Ruibo Qian) catch and torture runaway criminals and right now Monster, is the prize bounty.
Hester’s love for her son and her vengeance against the First Lady, are what drive this play, but like I said in the beginning, for someone who is so driven, how can she not recognize her own son not once but three times?
The cast is extremely talented and bring layers to each character. The direction by Jo Bonney kept the show moving and theatrical, but I left scratching my head. There were some important issues at stake and sadly they were left on the table.
The Red Letter Plays: F**king A: Signature Theatre, 480 West 42nd St. until Oct. 8th.