|Written by||Suzan-Lori Parks|
|Date premiered||February 24, 2000|
|Place premiered||Houston, Texas|
Fucking A is a play written by American playwright Suzan-Lori Parks. It was produced by DiverseWorks for Infernal Bridegroom Productions, and premiered at the DiverseWorks Artspace in Houston, Texas on February 24, 2000.
Fucking A is inspired by the novel The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850. Fucking A shares several similarities with this work; both of the main characters are named Hester and are strong females with an unwavering love for their illegitimate child. Both Hesters also bear the letter “A” as a symbol of how society defines them: the modern Hester is an abortionist, the original is branded for adultery.
The idea for the play came to Parks while she was canoeing with a friend, when Parks yelled out, "I'm going to write a play, a riff on The Scarlet Letter, and I'm going to call it Fucking A. Ha, ha, ha!" While Parks was initially joking, she couldn’t get the idea out of her mind. She began working on the play, but after 4 years of drafts and rewrites she still hadn’t come up with a workable plot. She threw out everything except the title and the name Hester, and considered throwing out the latter as well, but the voice of Hester filled her mind and persuaded her to retain it and write "her" story.
In The Blood
Hester's story, however, was not called Fucking A, but "In The Blood"; a contemporized version of Puritan adultery and guilt, about Hester La Negrita and her struggle to survive in a world filled with sexual oppression, along with her five children, all by different fathers. “You have to listen to those voices when they talk to you,” said Parks. Once it was finished, she was then able to go back and write all of Fucking A, which she refers to as a "revenge tragedy" about abortionist Hester Smith.
While In the Blood took place in a contemporary urban world, Fucking A has no such identifiable historical grounding. Set in "a small town in a small country in the middle of nowhere," it is a dark fable worthy of John Webster and other Jacobean tragedy plays. Ms. Parks composed brief sardonic songs in the style of Kurt Weill for her characters, with titles like "Working Woman's Song" and "My Little Army." The world revealed in the play is bleak and dystopian; one of naked and sadistic power where its subjects are subject to arbitrary imprisonment, where sexuality and fertility are discussed in an alternate language (translated on over-stage screens).
Hester Smith is an abortionist, physically branded with the letter “A”. The play begins with Hester talking to her friend "Canary Mary" about her son "Boy", whom she has not seen for 20 years, since he was imprisoned as a child for stealing a piece of meat from a wealthy family. The "rich bitch" who denounced him has grown up to marry the vicious "Mayor," who is the head of state. Hester describes how she writes to her son, and how she is saving her fees to pay for an outing with him. Canary confides to Hester that the Mayor has been cheating on his wife with her, and further discloses that the First Lady isn’t able to bear a child and the Mayor’s ready to leave her. Canary is confident that the Mayor will choose her, while Hester is left daydreaming about the day she can see her son again. Canary later walks through a park where she meets an escaped convict, "Monster". She notices he has a scar on his arm, and after a few exchanged words she continues on her way.
The scene changes to a bar where three hunters are bragging to each other about which one will catch Monster for the bounty. Hester arrives at the bar to find "Scribe", so he can write a new letter to send her son, but while there she meets another man named "Butcher" who takes a liking to her. Meanwhile, Monster meets an emotionally broken First Lady in the park, they exchange some kind words, and in the end she asks if she can kiss him. He agrees, and they kiss.
The next day Hester arrives home to find Monster has broken into her home. He robs her of some of her money, but in seeing her scar, which matches his, he starts to lose face and runs off. The next day, Hester finally has enough for her to pay for a furloughed picnic with her son. When she finds that the price has risen, she returns with more money as the plot takes a decidedly operatic turn. As she lays out the picnic spread, the guard brings out a prisoner called "Jailbait", who Hester ecstatically assumes is her son. She embraces him and tries to get him to show her the scar she gave him on his arm when he was first taken away to prison, but he is more interested in the food than he is in her. Halfway through the meal Hester realizes Jail Bait is not her son, at which point Jailbait claims that he killed her son in prison. Hester is frozen with shock, and as Jail Bait finishes eating and begins to rape her, she is still too stunned to resist.
The next scene opens with the First Lady discovering she is pregnant, but since Monster is the only possible father, she wants to abort the child, but decides to pass the baby as the Mayor's instead. Hester is now bent on revenge against the First Lady for putting her son in prison in the first place, and devises a plan with Canary to kill the First Lady, utilizing Butcher's unwitting help. Hester starts to put the pieces together and realize that Monster is actually her son, but struggles to accept that he is not the angel that she thought he was. When Hester learns that the First Lady is pregnant she changes her plan and decides to abort the baby instead of killing the First Lady so that she can echo the pain that the First Lady caused her. The next day Canary and Butcher bring a drugged First Lady to Hester’s house, where Hester aborts the baby, not knowing that it is her own grandchild. Just after Butcher and Canary leave, Monster, being chased by the Hunters, runs into the house. Hester accepts that Monster is actually her son. As the barking of the Hunters’ dogs grow louder, Monster tells Hester that if he is caught they will not kill him but torture him mercilessly. He begs her to kill him, and although at first she is incredulous, she finally decides that to save him from pain. She slits his throat like a pig, which Butcher has told her is the least painful way. The Hunters enter and see that he is already dead, and although they are disappointed they still drag his body away because there is “still fun to be had”. Hester stands alone in her house for an instant, but soon gets her abortion tools and goes into the other room to continue her work.
Plot is the core of a play. “Aristotle considered it to be the most important play element of them all." There are two things to remember about the plot – selection and arrangement. Selection pertains to what the playwright decides to actually write about. S/he never decides to tell every facet of the story, but instead chooses important parts that not only progress the story but are also connected to dramatic action. Arrangement pertains to how the playwright wants the story to be told. There are many ways to tell a story, such as starting from the ending and then showing the audience how the characters reached that conclusion, it’s all up to the playwright to see what order will do the most justice to the story.
Fucking A has a total of 19 scenes, 2 parts, and 16 characters. Many of the scenes are shorter than 5 pages. The play rapidly switches from one set of characters in a certain setting, to another set of characters in a different setting. As the story progresses more of the characters get in contact with each other, but for the most part scenes next to each other don’t feature the same characters. If Hester is in scene 1 then chances are she’s not going to be in scene 2.
The playwright chose to tell this story in a very chronological perspective. Although there appear to be several stories at once, the play never goes back in time or stalls. Every scene has different characters and settings, but they all progress the story in a very linear way. A “well-made” linear play has seven elements to every story.
The seven elements of this story can be seen as follows
- State of Equilibrium. Hester’s son has been sent to jail already and she is working as an abortion provider to try to see him. The First lady is unable to bear a child, as the Mayor is cheating on her with Canary.
- Inciting Incident. Hester continually makes small payments so she can have this picnic with him that she’s been dreaming about. The first snag that comes up is when the woman who works at the collections agency tells her the price for a picnic has doubled since she’s last made a deposit. Hester determined to have this picnic, and this attracts our attention which makes her the protagonist.
- Point of Attack of the MDQ (Major Dramatic Question). The main question of the play is “will Hester ever get to see her son and have the picnic she’s been working and saving for?”
- Rising Action. The rising action is the setback of the play. Hester finally saves up enough money to have the picnic with her son. She goes to the prison and a guard brings out a prisoner. Her dream has come true and all the hard work has paid off. Unfortunately in the middle of the picnic she finds out that not only is the prisoner not her son, but he claims to have killed her son.
- Climax. It turns out her son is not actually dead, but he is the escaped convict that these Hunters are after. He finds temporary asylum in her home, and even though they find out they are mother and son, the great news is short-lived. The Hunters are getting close and her son fears torture if he is captured. He tells her to kill him instead, and at first she refuses. She’s been killing other people’s children her whole life but she can’t dare kill her own son. Even if it’s for his own good.
- Resolution. In the end Hester decides the best thing she can do for her son is to give him a swift and painless death. If not, he will be captured and have to endure all the agonizing torture. She slits his throat and he dies instantly.
- New State of Equilibrium. The Hunters bust into Hester’s house only to find their target, dead. They take him away, and after they leave Hester is left alone. She gets her abortion tools and goes back to work. She no longer has a son to work for, but it’s what she’s been doing for a living, and she continues to do it.
- Hester Smith: The abortion provider and main character. Her son has been sent to jail by the First lady.
- Canary Mary: A friend of Hesters and a "kept woman", a prostitute.
- The Mayor: Leader of a small piece of land. Cheats on his wife with Canary Mary.
- The First Lady: The Mayor’s wife. She is unable to bear children which really bothers the Mayor. She sent Hester’s son to jail.
- Butcher: A local Butcher who falls in love with Hester.
- Monster: Escaped convict turns out to be Hester’s son. Real name is Boy Smith.
- Freedom Fund Lady: Collects money from Hester for the picnic bail.
- Scribe: He writes beautifully, and Hester goes to him so he can write a letter to her son for her.
- First, Second, and Third Hunter: All three them are bent on catching Monster for a money prize and also so they can torture him.
- Jailbait: He is mistaken for Hester’s son and he’s the one who actually has the dream picnics with Hester.
- Guard: Brings Jailbait to Hester.
- Waiting Woman #1 and #2: Two women waiting to abort their child.
- 3 Freshly Freed Prisoners: They sing a song during the play.
The story centers on Hester the abortion provider. She works as an abortion provider for the “Rich People”, as she calls them. Her son was sent to prison by the First Lady, who is a very rich woman. This shows that Hester is a poor woman who seems to live in an oppressed world. The playwright never suggests it in the writing, but Hester is mostly likely an African-American woman living during the racist era of America. Racism isn’t evident in the play, but when Hester continually talks about how she has to work for the “Rich People”, it’s easy to relate that time period. Hester in herself is a strong and determined woman, and even though working as an Abortionist is a disgraced occupation, she continues to do it just to see her son again. She loves him so much that at the end of the play, she is able to save him pain by killing him.
Monster is someone who seems like a kid who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Granted he does eventually become more of a criminal as time passes (he robs Hester and threatens the First Lady), it seems like if he hadn’t been sent to prison that he would’ve grown up a good kid under the guidance of his mother. The prisons of course had changed his perspective on life. “Better a monster than a boy. I made something of myself. It wasn’t hard”. If only he could’ve grown up into something better than a monster.
The First Lady is Hester’s archenemy and almost complete opposite. She sent Hester’s son to prison, but Hester is working on getting her son out. The First Lady is unable to bear children, so no matter how much money she has, she is unable to do what a poor woman like Hester can do. The Mayor is displeased with her inability and openly cheats on her with Canary Mary. The First Lady can see that she will be replaced and her world is crashing down on her. She spirals into depression and in her angst she actually gets impregnated by the same man she sent to prison, Monster. She wants to abort the baby, so the thing she found so disgraceful in the first place, she sees as something she must do. She can be seen as the woman with the money and no love in her life, while Hester has numerous people who love her, but very little money.
The play is full of dark humor, although it is influenced by the structure of classic tragedy.
A Classic Tragedy usually follows a 5-step pattern:
1. “The State of equilibrium establishes a universal moral code.”: This would refer to the code to not snitch on your fellow man. The First Lady does this to Monster before the play even starts, and interestingly enough later on in the play Monster tells her not to snitch again. If she didn’t in the first place, Monster would’ve be sent to jail, and in the end she might not have ended up dead.
2.“The inciting incident occurs when a character commits an act of shame”: This could be related to The First Lady’s snitching or it could be Hester’s job as an Abortionist. Both are shameful in the play, but Hester’s lives with a branded “A” on her body to show others.
3. “As the plot develops, this character undergoes suffering”: Hester suffers through the whole play. It starts with her not having seen her son in a long time, then she hits a snag when she finds out she has to pay double to see her son, after she overcomes this and finally gets to see her “son” it turns out not to be her son at all and instead another convict telling her he killed her son. She suffers with the shameful letter “A” on her body her whole life.
4. “At the climax, the character achieves some insight”: The climax occurs when Monster tells Hester to kill him to save him from torture. She’s been aborting other women’s babies for a living, but now she has to abort her own child.
5.“As part of the resolution, the universal moral code is restored by some act of redemption”: Redemption comes by the hands of Hester herself. With the help of Canary and Butcher, they kidnap the First Lady and Hester kills her herself.
Last but not least a major aspect of the Classic Tragedy is the death at the end does not for nothing. It shows the audience the power of love a mother has for her child to save him from the torture by killing him. Her self-sacrifice is definitely makes this play a Classic Tragedy.
Fucking A is without a doubt largely an Expressionism piece because of its own characteristics. It’s a dark and repressive world and Hester is trapped in her own society because of her lack of wealth and the fact that she’s an Abortionist. The entire play has an abstract feel to it, and also goes from a normal state to a nightmare state. The names of the characters are also very generic, such as Monster, Mayor, Jail Bait, etc. The amount of blood that’s in the play, as well as the amount of rape and death can easily be interpreted as a dark world and a dark distorted mind. It is a fairly short play and it follows Hester’s quest/journey to see her son again. It’s not only a look into Hester’s state of mind and emotion, but the playwright’s as well.
The use of language is actually a very interesting thing in Fucking A. Suzan-Lori-Parks has created this separate type of language called “TALK” which is something only the women use in the play. The women who speak TALK also speak English, but it’s something they often use towards each other when they are talking about pregnancy or vaginas.
Here is an example of TALK:
Canary:Die la-sah Chung-chung? Sah Chung-chung lay schreck, lay frokum, lay woah woah crisp woah-ya.
Translation: And her pussy? Her pussy is so disgusting, so slack so very completely dried out.
Hester:Rich Girl she tum woah Chun-chung crisp woah-ya, Rich Girl!
Translation: Rich girl yr pussy is all dried out, Rich Girl!
When TALK is used there is a projector of some sort that shows the translation onto the stage.
The overall theme or idea of the play is the mother’s love for a child. Hester is an Abortionist; so every day, she has women who come in to rid themselves of an unwanted child. She’s helping women who don’t have enough love for their child, all the while she is scrapping and saving everything she can just to have a small picnic with her son. The collection agency tells her she has to pay double to see him now, and it doesn’t even faze her. She continues to work towards her goal because she loves her son so much. Women are coming into her work to kill their sons, while Hester kills for her son. She kills the First Lady because of how she put her son in jail. In the end is the true test of how much Hester loves her son. He begs her to kill him in order to save himself from torture, and of course at first she is reluctant. Ultimately her strong love for him is the only thing that enables her to kill him to save him from pain. She was once a woman who aborted other women’s children, finally it comes around full circle that she has to abort her own child.
There are two things that make this play special, the inclusion of TALK and the songs that Suzan-Lori-Parks actually wrote herself. The translation for TALK is projected onto the stage at the same time as the actors are speaking it. It gives it a great other dimension of the play and is a beautiful sight to see when the actors and the projections are in sync. There are many songs that are originally written and interestingly just about every character has a song that they sing. In a later rendition of Fucking A which was played in the Public Theater in New York, the role of Monster is played by popular rap artist Mos Def. Although it is said to be the low point of the play, it can be a great spectacle for Mos Def fans to see him in such a dramatic role.
Suzan-Lori Parks wrote numerous songs for this play. Just about every character has a song that expresses something about themselves. Hester has a song called “My Vengeance” and even the Hunters have a song called “The Hunters Creed”. These songs are often sung during a scene where the character will break off and sing. It adds an interesting emotional element to the play and also shows off Park’s musical and lyrical ability.
Here is one of the songs from the play:
Monster: “The Making of a Monster”
- “Youd think itd be hard
- To make something horrid
- Its easy.
- Youd think it would take
- So much work to create
- The Devil Incarnate
- Its easy.
- The smallest seed grows to a tree
- A grain of sand pearls in an oyster
- A small bit of hate in a heart will inflate
- And that’s more so much more than enough
- To make you a Monster.
- Youd think itd be hard
- To make something horrid
- Its easy.”
Sample Production History
Fucking A was originally produced by DiverseWorks for Infernal Bridgegroom Productions on February 24, 2000, in Houston, TX. It was directed by Suzan-Lori Parks herself. The cast consisted of Tamarie Cooper, Amy Bruce, Charlie Scott, Amy Dickson, Andy Nelson, Troy Schulze, Lisa Marie Singerman, Cary Winscott, Keith Reynolds, Alexander Marchand, and Daniel Treadway.
New York Rendition
It was later played at the Public Theatre in New York. Directed by Michael Greif, began performances on February 25, 2003. (Broadway.com) The cast consisted of Susan Blommaert, Bobby Cannavale, Mos Def, Peter Gerety, Jojo Gonzalez, Jesse Lenat, S. Epatha Merkerson, Manu Narayan, ChandlerParker, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Michole Briana White. Running time: 2 hours, includes one 15-minute intermission.
About the Author
Suzan-Lori Parks is an award winning female American playwright who was born in 1964 in Fort Knox, Kentucky. For her undergraduate degree she studied English and graduated with honors in 1985 from Mt. Holyoke. Also in 1985, under the encouragement of writer James Baldwin (who she studied with), she created her first ever play called The Sinners Place. “He had faith in me long before I even had faith in me,” she said. The Mt. Holyoke theatre faculty refused to produce it. She didn’t let that stop her and continued to write. It took her another 4 years till she was better known after she wrote Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom.
Being an African-American, Parks often wrote plays that related to class struggle and race. Some plays were controversial such as The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World. However “critics applauded Parks's use of history, language and stereotype.” In turn she received a National Endowment for the Arts Playwriting Fellow for it. Not only writing plays she also produced a film called Anemone Me. Parks also writes the music for some of her plays herself, such as Fucking A and In the Blood.
“I write because I love black people. That in itself should take me a long way.” --Suzan-Lori Parks 
Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom
- 1990 Obie for Best New American PlayVenus
- 1996 Obie for Best New American PlayTopdog/Underdog
- 2002 Pulitzer Prize
- 1995 Lila-Wallace Reader's Digest Award
- 1994 W. Alton Jones Grant Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays
- 1992 Whiting Writers' Award
- 1990, 91 National Endowment for the Arts, Playwriting Fellow
- 2001, MacArthur Fellow
- Parks, Suzan L. The Red Letter Plays. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2001. (P. 114)
- Parks, Suzan L. "The Power and Audacity of Spoken Black English." Interview. Academy of Achievement. 10 Oct. 2007. 12 Feb. 2009 <http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/par1int-6>.
- Parks, Suzan L. The Red Letter Plays. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2001. (P. 220)
- Rush, David. A Student Guide to Play Analysis. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2005. (P. 35)
- Rush, David. A Student Guide to Play Analysis. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2005. (P. 35-37)
- Rush, David. A Student Guide to Play Analysis. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2005. (P. 38)
- Rush, David. A Student Guide to Play Analysis. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2005. (P. 38-39)
- Parks, Suzan L. The Red Letter Plays. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2001. (P. 148)
- Parks, Suzan L. The Red Letter Plays. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2001. (P. 218)
- Rush, David. A Student Guide to Play Analysis. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2005. (P. 99-101)
- Rush, David. A Student Guide to Play Analysis. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2005. (P. 100)
- Rush, David. A Student Guide to Play Analysis. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2005. (P. 216-229)
- Parks, Suzan L. The Red Letter Plays. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2001. (P. 119)
- Sommer, Elyse. "A CurtainUp Review F***ing A." Curtain Up The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings. 16 Mar. 2003. 12 Feb. 2009 <http://www.curtainup.com/fuckinga.html>.
- None. "Headlines: Mos Def to Star in Parks' Fucking A at Public." Broadway.com Your ticket to Broadway. 25 Oct. 2002. 12 Feb. 2009 <[dead link]>.
- Marshall, John. "A moment with ... Suzan-Lori Parks, playwright." Seattle PI 26 Mar. 2006. Books. 13 Feb. 2009 <http://www.seattlepi.com/books/123373_moment26.html>.
- Lenahan, Edward. "Suzan-Lori Parks." Temples for Tomorrow An Online Project in African American Literature. The College of Charleston. 12 Feb. 2009 <[dead link]>.
- Women of color women of words. Rutgers University. 13 Feb. 2009 <[dead link]>.
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