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Hawthorne reimagined in ‘The Scarlet Letter’

“I will not name him,” protested Hester Prynne (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn), framed in lights on a scaffold that looked ominously like gallows.

The UTEP Department of Theatre and Dance is presenting “The Scarlet Letter,” a screenplay written by Phyllis Nagy.

The play re-imagines Hawthorne’s novel with slightly modernized language and a smaller cast of characters.  It focuses on Pearl (Rossy Sanchez), the precocious illegitimate daughter of Hester and the minister Arthur Dimmsdale.

Pearl stands as the ever-present narrator, always observing the happenstances of the township of Boston.

After Hester has a child and refuses to name the father, the governor of the town decrees that she must wear a red “A” for adulteress.  This outward admission of sin creates a divide between her and the town, but for seven years she stands strong against revealing the identity of Pearl’s father.

The performance follows the primary plot of the book with hardly enough deviations to shake any but the staunchest literary Americanist.

The stage layout deserves praise.  The design students have outdone themselves by setting a scene with a prison, graveyard and forest taking up the relatively small space of the Wise Family Theatre.   The details on every board and headstone ensure that during the intermission, the audience will examine the scenery.

Roger Chillingsworth (Austin Savage), Hester’s estranged husband, had the potential to provide the comic relief as a diabolical debauch, but his overly dramatic delivery halted the humor of his lines.  This resulted in the audience relieving the dramatic tension by laughing at awkward times.

The sexualization of an exchange between Hester and Dimmsdale seem a stark contrast to the Puritanical history of the play, but in retrospect it fits well within the adaptation.

The smaller cast helps reinforce Hawthorne’s motif of the hypocrisy of the early American colonies, particularly in its treatment toward women.  Almost 150 years after his death, the political constructs and social implications still seem fresh.

Overall, the play celebrates the “Scarlet Letter” while making it more palatable for contemporary audiences.  It is a must-see for any lover of American literature. The language and sexual content may make it inappropriate for younger audiences.

The production will continue Oct. 31 through Nov. 3 in the Wise Family Theatre on the second floor of the Fox Fine Arts Center.

Tickets are $13 for adults, $9 for UTEP students, with discounts available for other students, military, alumni and UTEP faculty and staff.

For more information, contact the UTEP Department of Theatre and Dance at 747-5118.

S. David Ramirez may be reached at [email protected].


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About the Contributor
S. David Ramirez
S. David Ramirez, Staff Reporter
S. David Ramirez is currently an English and American Literature major wrapping up his final year at UTEP. He has written for the Lakefront, the Thing Itself literary magazine, the Tejano Tribune and The Prospector. When not striving for journalistic excellence, he helps organize fandom conventions around the Lone Star State, including El Paso Wintercon and San Japan, San Antonio’s largest Japanese culture and anime convention. He hopes to spend his academic career educating the public about the dangers of Jane Austen and the medicinal benefits of reading the Brontë sisters. His research in popular culture studies has taken him across the nation and he hopes to continue presenting findings on music, media and literature at future conferences. David says his success is due to a pact with the dread Lord Cthlulhu of R’ley fame, but he may just be reading too much H. P. Lovecraft in his off time. He is currently applying to graduate schools for communication rhetoric or writing and rhetoric. If you, or someone you know, is on these admissions boards, please contact him directly.
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Hawthorne reimagined in ‘The Scarlet Letter’