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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 19, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 47
Muddy Scarlet Letter confusing and irrelevant
Arts & Entertainment
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Muddy Scarlet Letter confusing and irrelevant

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Scarlet Letter
Intiman Theatre
Through December 5


The Scarlet Letter is still a book of information and exploration, now more for its slice of Puritan life than for its reflection of any social mores that we know today. The story of 1800's Puritan Hester Prynne and her affair, resulting in a child, and her refusal to name the man whose DNA helped form that child, is still a cautionary tale. The cautions, though, may be different now than they have been. Prynne's punishment was to wear a large 'A' on her chest, presumably forever, standing for 'adultery.' Now, the cautions may be about allowing others to dictate to you about your life choices, and how government can interfere with you and take away your child if you are somehow dubbed 'unfit.'

The adaptation by Naomi Iizuka is brief (the run time is about 1:15) and poetic, and the actors are quite lovely to watch - particularly Zabryna Guevara (Hester), Renata Friedman (the older Pearl), and Izabel Mar (an adorable and talented young lady of 12 playing the young Pearl at about 6 years old). R. Hamilton Wright plays ex-husband Chillingworth, with appropriate angry chill.

Friedman narrates the tale as the older daughter. Although she is still angry with her mother, she has become a young mother herself and has started to understand her actions. Still, Pearl is largely baffled by her mother's actions, and by the end we are no nearer to understanding Hester than Pearl, even after being privy to scenes of her infidelity. All we know is that Hester never loved her husband and found herself feeling a great love for the local minister.

We never get even a moment of clarity about why she refuses to name the man who fathered her child, or why he commanded that kind of loyalty even though he did not have the strength of character to name himself. If there are additional consequences that the couple would face together, none of those are spelled out. Toward the end, when the couple finally decides to run away together (what took them so long?), they apparently desist after finding that Chillingworth might follow them for a while.

The ultimate effect of the evening is to undermine any relevance the story might have to a modern audience. That may be the fault of the script or the director, Lear deBessonet. This is one of the rare times that the saying 'Success is 85% casting' shows it's missing a crucial 15%. The marvelous violin playing by Emily Holden is a beautiful element, but musically pretentious in its use, also undermining the message by overplaying the atmosphere in a bit of a soap-opera way.

The script is not direct enough to help us understand what Iizuka wants to say to a modern audience. A moment at the end where Rev. Dimmesdale (Frank Boyd) declaims that God's law is to allow love more freely - rather than man's law of placing restrictions on who you may love - may point to a message about modern restrictions or homophobia. But while we don't stone people or make them wear big signs when they commit adultery, our society certainly thinks it's at least a huge shame when someone breaks a marriage vow. People get hurt, families break up. Even here, the message is diffuse. What does Iizuka really want to say to us? Perhaps she should revisit her intentions and try again.

For more information, go to www.intiman.org or call 206-269-1900.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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