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UMN theatre tackles bodily autonomy in upcoming play

The show opens Friday and runs until March 2 in the Rarig Center’s Stoll Thrust Theatre.
Image by Qiuxia Welch (courtesy)
“F—ing A” opens Friday and runs until March 2 in the Rarig Center’s Stoll Thrust Theatre.

The University of Minnesota’s theatre department will open “Fucking A,” a play covering a variety of themes surrounding bodily autonomy and oppression, Friday in the Rarig Center’s Stoll Thrust Theatre.

The play, which runs until March 2, is a “radical retelling of ‘The Scarlet Letter,’” according to cast member and recent University graduate Olivia Gulden. The production aligns with the theatre department’s theme of bodily autonomy for their 2023-24 season.

“F—ing A” follows Hester Smith, an abortion provider who is physically branded with the letter “A,” her goal of reuniting with her son who was imprisoned many years prior and the devastating consequences that follow. 

According to Gulden, the playwright, Suzan-Lori Parks, defines the story as a “revenge tragedy” and “cautionary tale.”

The theatre department issued a content warning for this production. “F—ing A” includes “explicit language; simulated violence and sexual assault; descriptions of torture; use of stage blood; and themes surrounding death, incarceration, abortion, sex work, racism and class oppression,” according to its website.

Gulden, who plays Hester in the production, said she auditioned for the show last spring because of how impactful the story is and its applicability to society.

“I had read ‘F—ing A’ in a class a couple of years prior and just knew that it was very powerful and unique and that has definitely proved true as I’ve read it about a couple hundred more times,” Gulden said.

Luciana Stich, a second-year student who plays Hester’s friend Canary Mary, is also a fan of Parks’ work and agrees with Gulden’s sentiment of the play being relevant to current issues. To Stich, “F—ing A” highlights the choices the characters can and cannot make in their strict and misogynistic society and its parallels to the real world.

“I really like ‘F—ing A’ as it points out a lot of the flaws in our society and the way the world works in a world that is not necessarily, I mean, it’s not our own [society] but in a very real way, it is,” Stich said.

Opinions like Gulden’s and Stich’s are major reasons why the play was selected for this year’s programming, according to Emily Finck, a doctoral candidate in the theatre department and co-director of the show. Finck, who suggested the department produce this play, said its themes of bodily autonomy, the human desire for connection and justice and structural inequality are consistently timely.

Another major reason why the play was selected was because of its ability to allow the performers to branch out in their artistry.

“Suzan-Lori Parks as a playwright is someone I believe our students should be, not just aware of, but have the opportunity to engage with as performers, and within that includes her stylistic work,” Finck said. “When you see the show, it is not a real world and yet it exposes our real world, so I really liked the idea of letting our students play with really different styles of performance.”

“F—ing A” is a physically and emotionally demanding play for the actors, but Finck said part of their education is learning how to navigate these difficult topics.

To help prepare the performers for a show of this subject matter, the department held a BA Studio Production course for the first half of the fall semester, according to Talvin Wilks, an associate professor in the theatre department and the other co-director of the show.

Wilks said the purpose of the studio class was to give performers the opportunity to delve into the dramaturgy, movement and intimacy of the play, as well as allow them to do in-depth research and explore their characters.

“[The studio] gave us a chance to sort of bring different approaches and different techniques to thinking about the work,” Wilks said. “We all had different workshops and explorations, and it was also an early opportunity for [Finck] and I to really build a sense of collaboration and think about the way of approaching the work.”

Despite the show’s difficult subject matter, Gulden said the play still shows the characters’ hope and conviction despite the situations they are confined to.

“The reason why [the play] can be as powerful as it is, is definitely the humanity within it,”  Gulden said. “That’s the thing also about the show that is worth seeing is just the life and the love that manages to peek through the sidewalk cracks of this horrific world. The love persists.”

Tickets for “F—ing A” are available on the University theatre department’s website.

This article has been updated.

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