Theater Review: ‘The Scarlet Letter’ at Bay Street Theater

The cast of 'The Scarlet Letter.'
The cast of ‘The Scarlet Letter.’ Photo: Lenny Stucker/

Bay Street Theater brings literature to life on stage this month with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. This 90-minute stage production marks the Sag Harbor theater’s eighth year of Literature Live!, a BOCES-approved Arts-in-Education program.

Set in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1600s, The Scarlet Letter tells the story of Hester Prynne, a married woman who conceives a daughter out of wedlock during her husband’s long absence. As a result of this, she is forced to wear the letter “A” for adultery on the breast of her gown.

After she refuses to name the father, Hester becomes a social outcast. But the harsh ramifications don’t stop her from living a life filled with as much dignity and honor as possible. Despite this, the judgmental society in which she lives deems her unfit to raise her seven-year old daughter, Pearl, and it’s only through the kind and sympathetic Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale that mother and daughter are permitted to stay together.

If that doesn’t sound like enough 17th-century drama, this story of guilt, sin and repentance really comes to a head when Hester’s missing husband, posing as Dr. Roger Chillingworth, returns.

Scott Eck and Joe Minutillo penned the adapted script, which ultimately leads to a short and sweet stage rendition of the 1850 novel. The scene changes are seamless and the stage is dressed with branches and leaves, which gave this trip back in time a sense of place. The lighting arrangements and Felix Bird’s original music draws the audience in even further, particularly during Dimmesdale’s attack of conscience. Bird is an East End resident and his music has been featured in numerous movies and television shows, including How I Met your Mother, The Bachelor and America’s Got Talent.

Don’t be startled when the actors begin their performance amid the audience. Right off the bat, the Puritan villagers’ resentment toward Hester (played by the gracious and self-controlled Chloe Dirksen) makes theatergoers wary of this puritanical way of life.

Michael Raver’s sensitive, yet powerful performance as Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale gives a much more favorable view of his character than the one in the source material. While Raver’s rendition is hesitant in his pivotal decision, in the end, he is still heroic, as opposed to the arguably cowardly figure in Hawthorne’s novel.    

Dakota Quackenbush’s performance as Pearl is one of the show’s highlights. Her lighthearted, but rebellious spirit reflects the hope of this classic tale, and provides the production’s comic relief. Quackenbush is currently in the fifth grade at John Marshall Elementary School in East Hampton.

Literature Live! is offering free tickets for all students through its free student initiative. This offer is still available for a number of schools to book now to reserve space. Previous Literature Live! productions include Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, The Diary of Ann Frank, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker.

Performances of The Scarlet Letter will take place Thursday through Saturday, November 17 through 19, and Thanksgiving weekend on November 25 and 26 at 7 p.m. A matinee is also scheduled for 2 p.m. on November 26.

For more information, call 631-725-9500 or visit Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor.

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