Review: A Play With a Crude Name and a Powerfully Dark View

I suppose this is the place to note that, since I am not a character in this work but an employee of The New York Times, I shall be referring to this play only as “A.” (The full title places an Anglo-Saxon adjective before the “A,” one commonly used on cable television but not considered fit for print here.)

In any case, “A” is a dark, didactic entertainment deliberately in the mode of Bertolt Brecht, the German master of theatrical alienation, and a playwright who has always been difficult for American theater artists to get right. And this is Brecht as filtered through Ms. Parks, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Topdog/Underdog” and one of the most inventive, eclectic and uncategorizable dramatists working.

As if those elements weren’t daunting enough, Ms. Parks has described “A” (accurately) as a “revenge tragedy,” referring to the grisly tales of lust and carnage popular in the Jacobean era. And she has peppered the script not only with her own sardonic songs but also stretches of dialogue in a foreign language she invented for the discussion of matters gynecological.

“A” is also a riff on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” that great 1850 novel about Puritan guilt and repression. (“A” is one of two plays by Ms. Parks inspired by Hawthorne’s masterwork, both of which are being presented by Signature this season under the rubric “The Red Letter Plays.” The other, “In the Blood,” opens next week.)

Video

‘_______ A’

Christine Lahti and Raphael Nash Thompson in a scene from the revival of Suzan-Lori Parks’s play.


By SIGNATURE THEATER on Publish Date September 11, 2017.


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It would be all too easy for any interpreters of “A” to be overwhelmed by the play’s disparate influences and intellectual self-consciousness. That was what appeared to have happened to the lugubrious production I saw at the Public Theater in 2003.

Despite the haunting presence of its star, S. Epatha Merkerson, that version seemed to plod, stooped under its heavy cargo of significance. In contrast, this latest incarnation is light on its feet – quick, sharp and perfectly…

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