Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Windy City Times Review of The Scarlet Letter

Theater: The Scarlet Letter

Playwright: Nathaniel Hawthorne,

adapted by Rebecca Zellar

At: The GreyZelda Theatre Group

at Stage Left, 3408 N. Sheffield

Phone: 773-267-6293; $15

Runs through: Sept. 16


It is ironic that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s romanticist view of Puritan society in 17th-century Boston should become MORE coherent through Rebecca Zellar’s introduction of abstract elements in her adaptation of The Scarlet Letter for the GreyZelda Theatre Group. But if a picture ( as the saying goes ) is worth a thousand words, it should come as no surprise that a few moments of silhouetted corybanting, accompanied by Miranda Sex Garden’s orgasmic synth-rock, should convey subtext more vividly than the evocative inner monologues so irksome to generations of students required to read what may be the least salacious tale of adultery ever penned.

For those who succeeded in avoiding that homework assignment ( like I did ) , it is enough to know that Hester Prynne, her husband long missing at sea, has given birth to a child whose father she refuses to name. This decision being deemed inappropriate by her community, she is sentenced to wear a badge proclaiming her sin. But that brave woman flourishes, while the father of her illegitimate offspring falls ill under the stress of his secret. His decline is exacerbated by a mysterious physician—actually the incognito Mr. Prynne—bent on avenging the wrong done his beloved, if unfaithful, wife.

Hawthorne’s point is that only by being true to one’s own code of conduct does one achieve the dignity that confers happiness. Hester does this, as does her daughter, Pearl, and their protector, the ruthless Dr. Chillingworth. But only on the point of death does the Reverend Dimmesdale find peace, confessing his guilt by revealing the literal stigma engendered by his crime.

Zellar’s direction matches her production’s tone to the operatic proportions engendered by this gothic climax. Ron Kuzava renders Dr. Chillingworth as grotesquely menacing as his name, while Elizabeth Styles and Meredith Rae Lyons deliver heroic portrayals of gentlewomen Hester and Pearl Prynne. But the dramatic scope inspired by their performances inadvertently diminishes Toby Minor’s no-larger-than-life Rev. Dimmesdale, making us question, at times, if he is truly worth all the trouble taken by the others in precipitating his downfall.

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