Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Scarlet Letter"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents Copyright 2009 Tony Annicone

"The Scarlet Letter"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The closing show of Gamm's season 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 good deeds in the community. The play is observed by Hester's daughter, Pearl who comments on what is happening at the time. She describes her birth, appearing on the stockade with her mother and stared at by all of Boston as an infant. Pearl sings a ditty to explain what is happening and how old she is and plays the seven year old wild child who observes the actions of the other characters while running in and out of 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 Judith Swift 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 seventeenth Century repressive society but who redeems herself by her innate goodness and love of her daughter. This powerful production is rewarded with a standing ovation at the close of the show, something that is usually reserved only for musicals.

Judith mixes some laughter into the show so it doesn't become overly dramatic and blocks the show beautifully. Hard working stage manager Stef Work keeps things running smoothly during this ninety minute show with no intermission, making it fly by quickly.The acting prowess of these seven performers is astounding and thrilling to watch. The set is impressive with a tiny graveyard downstage with real dirt, a stone well center stage, a stockade on stage right and behind is the woods, a stone doorway is set behind it and a two story outside of a house on stage left and a garden path into the woods below it. The set is by Kathryne Hecht who also supplies the multitude of props. The authentic seventeenth century costumes are by Marilyn Salvatore. The lightning effects by Matthew Terry are splendid when Hester is first on the stockade and later in the minister's death scene. Also the final scene when Dimmesdale dies is lit so the sun shines through the stockade making it look like the Crucifixion as he atones for his sins by his death. Jeanine Kane is perfect as Hester Prynne. Her mellifluous speaking voice captures the hearts of the audience from start to finish and delivers her immense dialogue with ease Jeanine embodies this character with the zest and power needed whether she is talking 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. Jeanine and Stephen have some torrid kissing scenes which crackle with sexual tension. When she has him remove her bonnet and she removes the scarlet letter, Pearl doesn't recognize her mother anymore. Stephen Kidd plays the weak willed hypocritical minister, Dimmesdale perfectly. He shaved his head to look sickly and constantly clutches his heart. He shows the man's inner torment at betraying his lover and the character punishes himself by wasting away for his crimes. Later in the show he admits he is unclean and rolls around in the dirt. 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 and the stunning conclusion is more powerful when he rips his shirt open to reveal a bloody scarlet letter on his chest. Stephen delivers the goods in this role and his last speech electrifies the audience with his vocal prowess. Another excellent performance is given by Casey Seymour Kim as Pearl. Pearl is an irritant who demands the truth and seeks truth in actions. She will not give love to her mother even though it is her due, will not shun Chillingsworth for his deformity and will not accept the minister at face value. Her narration and transition into the seven year old is fantastic as she changes the tenor of her voice as the character ages. Casey holds the crowd's attention with her talented portrayal. Her spying on the others 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 this piece is Roger Chillingworth who wants to destroy Hester's lover. The hunchbacked deformed man is wonderfully played by Alan Hawkridge. His malevolent behavior oozes out of every pore of his being as he swigs his whiskey. 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. (Judith has Alan wipe the spit off his boots, being disgusted by Hester actually doing his bidding.) 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 know many secrets and practices witchcraft in the forest is played by Tray Gearing. Her addlebrained brother, Governor Bellingham who can't see beyond the end of his nose is played by Tom Gleadow. The honest man in town who is also the jailer called Master Brackett is played by Cliff Odle. He obtains many laughs in the second act when he tries to help Dimmesdale out of the graveyard while he is putting dirt all over himself. So for an exhilarating new version of the famous American novel and to witness some powerhouse acting back in 17th Century Boston, be sure to catch Gamm's production of "The Scarlet Letter". Kudos to GAMM for winning the Elliot Norton award for "Awake and Sing" and for Fred Sullivan, resident director at GAMM, director of "Awake and Sing" and actor at Trinity for winning an Eliot Norton acting award. These awards prove that GAMM knows how to put on award winning shows. Bravo!

THE SCARLET LETTER ( 7 May to 7 June, 2009)
The Gamm Theatre, Pawtucket, RI
1 (401) or

"The Scarlet Letter" (7 May - 7 June)
172 Exchange Street, PAWTUCKET RI
1 (401)723-4266

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide