It was a little hard to sort out the tortured emotions and bizarre behavior of the characters, but there was no denying that they made a vivid impression on the audience at a recent performance of Carpenter Square Theatre’s “The Scarlet Letter.”
Loosely adapted from the book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Phyllis Nagy‘s free-form adaptation pares the classic novel down to seven characters and tells the story through the eyes of Hester Prynne‘s now grown “love child” Pearl, the play’s director, Rhonda Clark, pointed out.
Set 350 years ago in the Boston Puritan colony, its locations, according to program notes, include “a prison doorway, a graveyard, a scaffold … the woods” and Hester’s rock cottage, built by Caleb Schnackenberg.
Crystal Ecker did a good job of portraying Pearl as a “loose cannon,” more responsive to the woods than religious strictures, upsetting adults with her unpredictable responses as she searches for her own identity.
Wearing the red letter “A” for adultery almost as a badge of honor, Michelle Swink gave a low-key but solid performance as Hester Prynne, who is determined to keep Pearl and not reveal the identity of Pearl’s father.
Swink caught fire, however, in a touching love scene with the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale, the father of her child, whose guilt and suffering were depicted by Sean Eckart with great intensity and restraint.
Another “loose cannon” in the Puritan woodwork was Brent Weber, who was truly chilling and inscrutable as the hunchbacked Roger Chillingworth. The pseudo-doctor husband of Hester who returns after disappearing to become Arthur’s “pretend-friend” and possible poisoner, Weber conveyed a palpable aura of evil as a man who doesn’t play by the Puritan rules.
Carpenter Square’s “The Scarlet Letter” is challenging theatrical fare that offers no easy answers or happy endings, but it did earn an A-plus for intensity and the sincerity of its intentions. It is highly recommended during the rest of its run.