REVIEW: Performances you shouldn't miss

REVIEW: Performances you shouldn't miss

The University of Illinois 2015-2016 theater season, which intentionally provoked the conversation of public discourse throughout its well-planned season, will come to a resounding end at the conclusion of its current production, "In the Blood" by Suzan-Lori Parks. It is a theatrical experience you shouldn't miss.

A powerful, contemporary narrative influenced by Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," "In the Blood," follows the tragic tale of Hester and her five fatherless children — her "treasures" — who make a home for themselves under a bridge in the inner city.

Her firstborn, Jabber, attempts to educate his mother by reading to her and teaching her the alphabet, but so far, the letter A is all she can master as she tends to her brood, gathering aluminum cans and surviving by her wits on the streets.

Fierce with a sort of proud nobility, Hester has fallen through every crack the system has. Everyone has taken advantage of her, but out of love for her children, she holds onto the dream of one day getting that "leg up" that will lead her to a better life.

As I write this, I am still in awe of the powerful performances given by this young, hardworking cast. Each actor plays two roles.

Samuel Babick is both Hester's middle son, "Trouble," and the skateboarding physician who tends to street people. He's energetic and appropriately amusing in each, providing some much-needed lighter moments in the evening.

Christian Wilson plays both Jabber and his father, Chili, Hester's first love. Wilson is sensitive and charming throughout his performance.

Danyelle Monson portrays both Hester's defiant daughter, Bully, who sleeps with clenched fists, and the judgmental welfare lady who has all but given up on this needy family.

Alexis DawTyne portrays both Hester's daughter Beauty and her gum-smacking streetwise friend Amiga Gringa.

With the help of Samantha C. Jones' costume design, both young women seamlessly and irrefutably define their separate characters wonderfully.

S. Janjay Knowlden is Reverend "D" ( as in Hawthorne's Reverend Dimmesdale), a self-made street evangelist who sired Hester's youngest child and then refuses to offer any help or support. Knowlden also plays the 2-year-old "Baby."

And finally, Maya Vinice Prentiss is truly remarkable as Hester. She presents a courage and a raw honesty not often seen so early in one's career. I found her performance completely captivating. Though admittedly, due to the subject matter, it was painful to watch Hester, there is no denying Prentiss' brilliance in her execution of this demanding role.

With mature themes and language, this production is not recommended for younger or sensitive audiences.

If you go

What: "In the Blood" by Suzan -Lori Parks

Where: The Studio Theatre at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 3 p.m. next Sunday

Tickets: Standard, $25; seniors, $24; students, $15; UI students, $10

Running time: 2 hours, 39 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission

Tricia Stiller serves as director for the McLean County Diversity Project's Theatre Program, the Miller Park Summer Theatre Program and the Penguin Project McLean County. She can be contacted at