Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Scarlet Letter"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2007 by Tony Annicone

"The Scarlet Letter"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Foothills Theatre Company's current show is Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic tale of guilt, sin and redemption, "The Scarlet Letter". Adapted with a contemporary twist by playwright Phyllis Nagy, the play follows the story of Hester Prynne, a young married woman who commits adultery and bears a "love child'' after her husband is presumed lost at sea. When her husband returns, Hester refuses to name the father, who happens to be a minister in the community. As punishment, Hester is forced to wear the letter "A" on her chest as a symbol of her shame, marking her an adulteress. Set in Boston in the seventeenth century, the tale becomes even more heated when Hester's husband, Roger Chillingworth, posing as a doctor, treats the ailing minister, Arthur Dimmesdale (the father of Hester's baby). He grows suspicious that Dimmesdale is the father and plans to exact his revenge on the fragile minister whose secret has been hidden for seven years. Hester struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity by doing a good deeds in the community. The play is narrated by Hester's full grown daughter, Pearl who describes her birth and plays the seven year old wild child who observes the actions of the other characters while hidden in the woods. The town represents a civilized world while the forest represents nature and all the evil things that can happen away from the eyes of the town. Director Jeremy Johnson chooses seven talented cast members to fill these roles and they create a dramatic and overpowering story of the human spirit of a woman who is shunned by this 17th Century society but who redeems herself by her innate goodness and love of her daughter.

The acting prowess of these seven performers is astounding and thrilling to watch. Dee Nelson is perfect as Hester Prynne. Her mellifluous speaking voice captures the hearts of the audience from start to finish. Dee embodies this character with the zest and power needed whether she is speaking to her evil husband, bratty daughter, weak willed lover, the governor, his sister who practices witchcraft and the honest jailer. She commands the stage with her acting prowess, delivering a splendid performance. Brava. Victor Warren plays the weak willed hypocritical minister, Dimmesdale. He shows the man's inner torment at betraying his lover and the character punishes himself by wasting away for his crimes. At the end of the show, Dimmesdale redeems himself by confessing his sins and by his immediate death cheats the evil Chillingworth from tormenting him. Victor delivers the goods in this role and his last speech electrifies the audience with his vocal prowess. Another excellent performance is given by Eve Kagan as Pearl. Her narration and transition into the seven year old is fantastic. Eve holds the crowd's attention with her talented portrayal. Her spying on the others while hidden in the forest as well as her crazed antics as this wild child are riveting as is her eventual acceptance of her father on the scaffold when Pearl is humanized at last.

The villain of the piece is Roger Chillingworth who knowingly wants to destroy Hester's lover. The hunchbacked deformed man is well played by Walter Mantani. His malevolent behavior oozes out of every pore of his being. The current day audience despises the scene where he degrades Hester by having her kneel, crawl to him, kiss his boots and then lick them. (Thankfully he stopped her before she licked them.) His comeuppance is delivered when Dimmesdale dies before he can torment him anymore with his taunts and herbal remedies. The town of Boston is portrayed by the three talented remaining cast members. The evil Mistress Hibbins who knows many secrets and practices witchcraft in the forest at night is played by Lisa Tucker. Her addlebrained brother, Governor Bellingham who can't see beyond the end of his nose is played by Dale Place. The honest man in the town who is also the jailer called Master Brackett is played by Mark Cartier. He obtains many laughs in the second act when he tries to help Dimmesdale out of the graveyard. So for some powerhouse acting in a show about 17th Century Boston, be sure to catch Foothills production of "The Scarlet Letter".

"The Scarlet etter" ( 6 - 28 January)
FOOTHILLS THEATRE
100 Front Street, Worcester, MA
1 (508) 754-3314

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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