BWW Reviews: THE SCARLET LETTER at the Intiman Theatre


Seattle's Intiman Theatre is closing out their main stage season with the adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic morality tale, "The Scarlet Letter".  In "The Scarlet Letter" the letter in question is an "A" but with this production I can really only give it a C-.

Adapted by Naomi Iizuka, the story (for those that weren't forced to read it in High School) set in the Puritanical 1800's focuses on a young woman, Hester, who has had an extra marital affair with a young Minister which results in a pregnancy.  When the town finds out they force Hester to wear a scarlet "A" on her chest so no one can forget her adulteress ways.  But Hester refuses to identify Minister Dimmesdale as the other member of the affair and takes on the burden of shame all on her own.  What Iizuka has done is to take the story and boil it down to the interactions between the characters and since the book itself contains so much description, this makes the play quite a short one (only 72 minutes).  She has also added in the character of adult Pearl (the illegitimate daughter of Hester) who serves as a narrator for the play as she is looking back on the story of her Mother's life.    Unfortunately she also relies on this character to provide so much heavy laden exposition and preaching about what she feels that the play really comes across as being terribly self important.

But then, that could also be the fault of the director, Lear deBessonet who seems to have instructed the cast to play every moment as overly pious and significant rather than portraying these characters as honest.  This just brings them out to be caricatures of these literary icons.  And if that weren't enough, deBessonet has also infused the play with a live violin underscore performed on stage by Emily Holden and while beautifully performed, it only accentuates the sense of grandeur the play has and beats us over the head with how we should be feeling.  And then there were the off stage whispers from the townspeople that kept permeating the show which were so heavy handed that they just came across as silly and forced.

BWW Reviews: THE SCARLET LETTER at the Intiman TheatreBut really that was the watchword for this production, forced.  Even the actors seemed intent on telling us how important the story and its moments were with so much yelling and hand wringing.  There's driving the point home by playing a part honestly and letting the audience feel what they want and then there's force feeding the feelings and unfortunately this show was full of the latter.  Really there was just so much "acting" on the stage on not enough "being".

Only one moment of the show rang true and that was the sermon from Minister Dimmesdale, played by Frank Boyd, from the end of the show.  In this sermon he confesses his involvement in the affair by conveying the difference between Man's Law which wants to decide who you can love and God's Law which doesn't restrict true love.  The problem was that by this point in the play, this one moment of truth was too late and I didn't care anymore.

All in all a passable production with nothing special to make it great.  And while I appreciate the timely message of all inclusive love without societal interference, there are better ways to convey it.

"The Scarlet Letter" plays at Seattle's Intiman Theatre through December 5th.  For tickets or information contact the Intiman box office at 206-269-1900 or visit them online at

Photo Credits: Chris Bennion

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From This Author Jay Irwin

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