Review: ‘Fucking A’ at Iron Crow Theatre

There is so much than can be talked about when it comes to Suzan-Lori Parks’ 2000 riff on The Scarlet Letter, the half-jokingly entitled Fucking A. There is the unsettling setting, the surprising music, the original language Park invents called “Talk”… and then there is the “A” itself, branded on to the protagonist Hester Smith, a symbol not of Adultery, but of Abortionist. All of these lay the foundation for an extremely unusual, gripping, and powerful play, which is now being given a splendid new production by Baltimore’s Iron Crow Theatre.

Jessica Bennett and Kaya Vision. Photo by Rob Clatterbuck.

Set in a retrograde dystopia, styled by Set Designer Logan Lynch to look like the Wild West, Fucking A is a family drama wrapped inside a political commentary and modeled in the form of a Greek tragedy. It is the tale of Hester Smith, whose son, Boy, was imprisoned years ago at the whim of a “rich bitch” who is now the First Lady (the wonderfully neurotic Cricket Arrison) of the little society they live in. Years later, Hester scrimps by at her degraded trade in order to make enough money to pay the “Freedom Fund” for her son to be released. Meanwhile, an escaped convict known as Monster (the powerful Javier Ogando) prowls the edges of town looking for an uncertain mixture of sex and companionship.

Jessica Bennett is tremendous as the vengeful, self righteous, and long suffering mother Hester. Ashamed of her profession but convinced it is the only way to free her son, Hester is both a formidable and a deeply pitiful figure. Bennett seemingly drives the show through sheer force of will, and her journey to save Boy and defeat the First Lady effectively becomes our journey. She is helped by her friend Canary Mary (played with vivacious authenticity by Deirdre McAllister), a prostitute whose eyes are set on seducing and marrying the Mayor (the swaggering Jamil Johnson).

An unexpected twist in Fucking A is the music. With a backing trio comprised of Guitar/Banjo (Kevin Krause), Mandolin (Dave Engwall), and Percussion (Josh Eid-Reis), the music in Fucking A is far lighter and folksier than the story. And beyond the pleasant instrumentals, most of the characters also have their own vaudeville style ditty.

The Hunters. Photo by Rob Clatterbuck.

The Hunters (Martha Robichaud, Kelly Hutchinson, and Caitlin Weaver) who make their living (and their fun) by torturing and killing escaped convicts, have a particularly rousing tune sung in beautiful harmony.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Fuckin A is the separate language that Parks has devised for her female characters, known as “Talk” in this world. Saved mostly for private discussions about sexuality and fertility, “Talk” is a gibberish language that, in order for it to be understood by the audience, is dubbed over by an external sound effect much in the same way a foreign language film might be translated. It’s as though in this world, men and women are so separated that even their tongues are separate.

The cast of ‘Fucking A.’ Photo by Rob Clatterbuck.

The lighting, by Cara Antico, is intense and saturated, and the costumes, by Nicki Seibert, are effective at evoking a sort of neo-feudal peasantry.

Fucking A rumbles along like a doomed freight train headed for collision, sucking us in deeper and deeper to its convoluted world. And although the story and the characters are unique to this play, they have a deeper resonance that touches are souls… especially in the age of President Donald Trump. Original and unsettling, emotional, and grandiose, Fucking A is not to be missed – and though we may not be physically marked like Hester when we leave, there is undoubtedly an element of the show that sticks with us as surely as any brand.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.

Fucking A plays through February 12, 2017, at Iron Crow Theatre performing at the Baltimore Theatre Project – 45 Preston Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

NOTE: This play is not recommended for younger viewers.