ABSTRACT

I arrive at the Public Theater's first-floor rehearsal room at 9:50 A.M. on June 29, 1998, for the first read-through of In the Blood. Jonathan Earl Peck enters a few minutes later and is handed an "updated script" by intern Joe Salvatore, who will read aloud the stage directions. The actor laughs and says: "That's what I get for doing my homework. It's about ten pages thicker." Kathleen Chalfant enters with a dog-eared script. A minute later the playwright arrives, wearing a blue-and-white patterned skirt with a slit on one side, a black tank top, and black platform sandals. "So how many more pages is it?" Peck asks her. 8

Parks calls In the Blood '"the alien baby play.' It leapt out of another play and said, 'Here I am."' 9 What leapt out is a play about a black welfare mother with five fiercely loved, fatherless children, one of whom she kills brutally, in a frenzy, at the end of the play. A month before the reading Parks tells me:

In the rehearsal room the playwright and six actors sit at a long black table piled with revised scripts, white pads, yellow Post-its, pens and pencils in a plastic cup, a water jug, paper cups, and a variety of bags filled with yogurt, bottled water, and sandwiches. After introductions, Parks says: "Any questions before we start? Anything weird?" Peck says: "You want to tell us anything?" "All I want to talk about are the 'spells,"' Parks replies. "All the characters breathe together." These spells, which appear frequently in her plays, are a typographical arrangement in which several speech tags follow each other without dialogue, for example:

An actor asks: "And the 'rests' are real rests?" and the playwright replies: "Yes. And you don't say 'rest."' The word, "(rest)," appears sometimes in combination with a spell and sometimes by itself, for example:

and then:

Parks's spells present a difficulty for the actors. "It's hard to do in a reading," she tells me. "No thoughts usually. It's a suspension of all thought, all stage business. Maybe an inhale and exhale. A moment of high focus and high concentration. It's not a rest." 13

The opening line of the prologue is "wissa," repeated eight times. The authorial director does not explain the repeated word; she simply asks that it be spoken in unison by all the actors. The subsequent lines, which appear without speech tags, are delivered individually by the actors in the order in which they are seated at the table. Parks pronounces the opening word: wis-ah. The actors repeat it, and then continue reading at a fast clip with high energy. The playwright herself takes the double roles (Jabber and Chilli) of an absent actor.