(This article first appeared in the November 16, 2016 issue of The Independent Newspaper)
Whether or not you’ve actually read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, chances are you’ve heard of it. Perhaps it was on a reading list back in grade school that you eagerly passed on after noticing it was originally published in 1850. Or perhaps you’ve come across one of the movies based on the novel, like the famed 1995 version with Demi Moore, Gary Oldman and Robert Duval. If you have yet to experience one of the great American novels, now is your chance.
The Bay Street Theater & Sag Harbor Center for the Arts is holding its eighth year of the Literature Live! program with The Scarlet Letter. Scott Eck and Joe Manutillo bring Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel to life in an original adaption for the East End audience.
The play, set in Puritan Boston, details the life of Hester Prynne, played by Chloe Dirksen, a once married woman who becomes shunned by society after conceiving a daughter from an adulterous affair. The town requires her to wear the scarlet letter “A” across her chest as part of her shame.
Upon Hester’s refusal to reveal the father’s identity, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, played by Michael Raver, she is forced to live a life separate from society. Years later Hester’s missing husband, played by Nick Gregor, returns scorned and seeking the truth, but posing to all those around him as Doctor Roger Chillingworth. All along the young daughter Pearl, played by Dakota Quakenbush, is innocently caught between all the conflict.
Since I had never read the novel, only the Cliff Notes version, and Demi Moore’s rendition had long left my memory, I went into the theater without any expectations or comparative distractions. I was nothing short of amazed. Played with only a handful of actors the story was imaginatively executed. From facial expressions to clarity in their diction, each performer powerfully convinced me I had traveled back in time.
Some performances are worth mentioning such as Chloe Dirksen as Hester Prynne. She was motherly and unpretentious. Dirksen undertook her role, center of the stage, in a Broadway sized way.
I could not imagine anyone better to play young Pearl than Dakota Quakenbush. Her brilliant smile and bubbly energy brought positive light to a dark story.
Kathleen Mary Carthy played Mistress Hibbins, the mentality erratic woman living with her brother, Governor Bellingham, who wanders into the forest at nightfall to see “the Black Man.” It’s a role she takes on with comical precision. The crowd could count on Carthy’s character for relief, and see her cluelessly smiling in the corners of the stage.
Nick Gregor was conniving and clever in a way only his character, Roger Chillingworth, could be. While I’m not quite sure how comfortable he was limping the entire performance, he did a first-rate job.
Lastly, Michael Raver was a charismatic Arthur Dimmesdale. His secrecy of sin is felt throughout the play, each scene leading the audience one step closer to his resolution.
Other cast members include Preston Truman Boyd as Beadle, Carolann DiPirro as Goodwife Doolittle, Luke David Young as Reverend Wilson, Daren Kelly as Governor Bellingham, Jessica Mortellaro as Goodwife Robson. Felix Bird, an East End resident, composed original music for the production. The production team includes Set Designer Gary Hygom, Lighting Designer Mike Millings, Costume Designer Kate D’Arcy, Production Stage Manager John Sullivan and Assistant Stage Manager Michelle Tewksbury.
In a performance not to be missed, the entire cast and crew take small stage dimensions to big stage quality.