WHAT “The Scarlet Letter,” world premiere adaptation by Scott Eck and Joe Minutillo
WHEN | WHERE Through Nov. 26. Upcoming: 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Bay Street Theater, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor
TICKETS $20-$55; 631-725-9500, baystreet.org
When Hester Prynne detaches the letter “A” from the bodice of her dress, her love child does not recognize her. Hester has worn “A for adulteress” all her daughter’s life.
The emotionally charged scene galvanizes what many young people would consider a stodgy tale to be read only as a school assignment — if then. Bay Street Theater’s Literature Live!, now in its eighth year, presents “The Scarlet Letter,” Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 19th century novel examining sin, guilt, hypocrisy and the law, in an accessible world premiere adaptation by Scott Eck and Joe Minutillo, credited in earlier such projects, including “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Bay Street brings the novel and study guide as well as free admission to school-day performances to more than 3,000 students. To help cover costs, evening performances are open to the public.
In case, like me, you haven’t read “Scarlet Letter” since high school, a synopsis: Hester gives birth to a daughter, Pearl, during the 14-month absence of her husband — thought to have drowned at sea. The year is 1642, barely a generation after the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. The place: a Puritan village near Boston. Disgraced, Hester is forced to stand on a scaffold wearing the letter A as she clutches her baby while fellow villagers heap scorn. She’s visited in jail by a disfigured man she recognizes as her husband, now assuming the identity of a doctor. He demands the name of Pearl’s father. Hester refuses. When the governor of Massachusetts orders the child taken from her, the popular Rev. Dimmesdale persuades him to allow Pearl, now 7, to remain under her mother’s care.
As Hester, Chloë Dirksen shows a determined face of courage, persevering with dignity while Dakota Quackenbush’s Pearl skips about in gleeful innocence. Nick Gregory makes a churlish estranged husband, consumed by vengeance. As Dimmesdale, Michael Raver pleads desperately on behalf of forgiveness by a judgmental mob that would have sinners burned at the stake. As governor, Daren Kelly cuts a political figure while Kathleen Mary Carthy represents the specter of sorcery.
As directed by Minutillo, “The Scarlet Letter” covers years of suffering with minimal lags in momentum. The morality play unfolds on Gary Hygom’s austere wooded set, lit forebodingly by Mike Billings and accessorized by Kate D’Arcy’s Pilgrim costumes. We’re taken back 200 years before Hawthorne wrote his novel. But in terms of finger-pointing, how much has really changed?