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Theater/Dance Last Updated: Sep 22nd, 2009 - 13:07:41

Life and Abortion
By Carol Theater Critic
Jul 28, 2009, 18:21

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In the strange, dark, post-apocalyptic world envisioned by playwright Suzan-Lori Parks in “F***ing A” at The Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C., Hester (Jennifer L. Nelson) provides a service that is viewed by the community as a necessary evil. Branded with the letter “A” on her breast, she sees herself as a sincere, hard-working albeit disgraced “aborter,” a woman who helps other women, while socking away money to buy the privilege of visiting her long-lost son, “Monster” (Jahi Kearse), in prison.

Parks—whose credits include the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Topdog/Underdog”—took Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter as the inspiration for this piece. The characters in “F***ing A” live in a future world where old racial stereotypes sadly survive and flourish. The mayor-for-life (Craig Wallace, looking a lot like Paul Robeson in “The Emperor Jones”) is a misogynistic bully who is frustrated because his White First Lady (Jjana Valentiner) is unable to bear him a son. He’s carrying on an affair with the brazen yet shrewd Canary (Ashley Ware), a young Black woman who keeps a jaded yet protective eye out for Hester.

During the first half hour or so of the play, you’re treated to the genius of Parks’ masterful use of the language. There are sharp turns of irony and humor in the dialogue, and the cast delivers with powerful performances. The women also share a language—a Parks-created patois they use when talking about vaginas and breasts and pregnancies.

Suddenly, Hester, Canary and a chorus of break into song—the “Working Woman’s Song” to be exact. Parks’s dark tale of judgment and despair takes a jarring left turn and becomes a musical. And instead of this song and dance (yes, there’s some dancing too) enriching the production, the remainder of the play feels contrived and ill-fitting.

While Hester naively dreams of sharing a picnic with her son Monster, she’s also nursing a grudge against The First Lady who apparently had a part in sending her boy to prison.
She doesn’t know that Monster has already busted out of prison and is being pursued by The Hunters—the all-White, black leather-clad bounty hunters (Brandon Waite, Perter Pereyra, Matt MacNelly and Aaron Kozloff) who have fun singing “The Hunters Creed” (“We hunt, but we do not eat what we catch. That’d be a little weird, don’t you think?”)

Yes, it is a little weird.

The remainder of the plot is filled with stark brutality and grief. The violence and animality of “F***ing A” is shocking, and draining, which is apparently what Parks had in mind. The irreverent use of the song and dance, while interesting, also adds an air of perversity to the work. It’s a rough, raw evening of in-your-face theater that in the end leaves you hungering for some message of redemption.

“F***ing A” runs through August 9, 2009 at The StudioTheatre 2nd Stage, 1501 14th Street, NW, 202-332-3300. ( has modified the title of the play to suit our style rule for profanity on the site.)

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