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Theater review: Plan-B Theatre Company’s “The Scarlet Letter”

by on April 14, 2012

If you’re only experience with The Scarlet Letter is high school English class or the forgettable Demi Moore film version, consider this a hearty recommendation to find tickets to Plan-B Theatre Company‘s new adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic penned by Jenifer Nii.

That won’t be easy–all shows are sold out except the April 21 show as of this writing, but standby tickets are available nightly in case of no-shows. But if you can get in, you’ll be rewarded handsomely with outstanding performances and a thoughtful, challenging story. Nii’s script delivers poetry where Hawthorne’s novel was more of a slog (if memory serves–I certainly haven’t read it since high school), and the four actors involved take that script to memorable, emotional heights.

The story, for the unfamiliar, revolves around Hester Prynne, a woman scorned within her early-1600s community for giving birth to a daughter, Pearl, out of wedlock, and refusing to name the father. Forced to wear a scarlet “A,” Hester raises a vivacious, headstrong daughter through the taunts of the townspeople, keeping her secret, and that of Pearl’s father, despite the appearance of her revenge-minded husband, Roger Chillingworth.

David Fetzer plays Dimmesdale in Plan-B Theatre Company's "The Scarlet Letter." (Photo by Rick Pollock)

The performances by all four members of the cast are outstanding. Claire Wilson’s Pearl is the heart of the play, commenting on the hypocrisies of the adults around her, whether it’s her mother Hester (an excellent Lauren Noll) showing one face to the world and another in the home, or the good reverend Dimmesdale (masterfully conveyed by David Fetzer) and his struggle to live up to the expectations of his congregation while holding on to his secret relationship with Hester and her daughter. Mark Fossen also excels as the somewhat sinister Chillingworth, playing the role in a way that lets the audience share Dimmesdale’s early friendship with the intellectual, while also chilling the audience to the bone when his dark side emerges.

Once again, the Plan-B technical talent excels as well as the talent on stage. Cheryl Cluff’s direction is fluid, and her sound design memorable for its blend of choral music and recorded chants of Hester’s townspeople mocking her. Randy Rasmussen’s set is built on a multipurpose, striking structure with multiple levels for the characters to use–a really impressive use of the simple space inside the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. The costumes, the lighting, the props like the cat o’ nine tails Dimmesdale uses to flog himself–it all works perfectly in tune with the actors and Nii’s glorious, musical dialogue.

Again, getting tickets will be tricky, but make the effort and go down for stand-by tickets during a performance Sunday or next week, when it will run Thursday through Sunday. It’s worth it–and you can put off reading the novel again for, oh, the rest of your life.

Claire Wilson as Pearl (left) and Lauren Noll as Hester Prynne in Plan-B Theatre Company's "The Scarlet Letter." (Photo by Rick Pollock)

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