Baruch students unravel complexity during rehearsals for ‘The Scarlet Letter’


Courtesy of the Baruch College Production of The Scarlet Letter

Caryl Anne Francia, Business Editor

Baruch College is gearing up for its fall semester play. The theatrical production of “The Scarlet Letter” will open in the Bernie West Theater on Nov. 15.

People may be familiar with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel from reading it in high school. Set in the mid-1600s, the story was adapted for live theater by playwright Phyllis Nagy in 1994.

Under the direction of theater professor Christopher Scott, the show’s eight cast members spent seven weeks rehearsing. Most came from Baruch theater classes and high school productions. For Raoul Gadir, who plays Arthur Dimmesdale, this is his first stint in theater, having previously acted in short films.

“I’ve never had to sit with a character for this long,” Gadir said. “There’s so many scenes that almost feel like each one teaches me something new.”

Rachelle Hernandez, who plays Hester Prynne, compared the rehearsal process to a baklava, a dessert with multiple thin layers and almond in the middle.

“From an outside perspective, that’s Hester — this is what she does is what she does, but there’s a reason,” Hernandez said. “There’s a motive behind every action, every movement and every word. As we discover that, I find myself embodying her more.”

Scott meticulously directs the performers on how to make their acting more believable and how to deliver certain lines.

“When I heard that I got called back, I got really excited,” Hanah Dang, who plays Hester’s daughter Pearl and comes from Vietnam, told The Ticker. “During the last callback, the director asked me about my native language, so that made me think that I have to work harder on my pronunciations and vocabulary to pronounce exactly the word in the play.”

The cast members liked Scott’s direction, with Hernandez adding he’s “like this beautiful hand” that nudges them to bring out their full potential.

While following his lead, they also implement their own interpretation of their characters. Ethan Lee, who plays Roger Chillingworth, said he’s grateful that Scott is “very open to letting the artists do art, play around and have fun.”

“It’s a bit stressful sometimes but not like I can’t do it,” Lee said. “It’s what comes up, like finding the emotional connectedness with the character and finding the right truth.”

Jannatul Shoilee, who is the production’s assistant director and assistant stage manager, noted the performers’ dedication, especially while preparing for midterm exams and projects. While balancing the show and academics has been stressful, the cast and crew have bonded during their rehearsals.

Performers find humor not only in script but in between the lines. Raffael Raisan, who plays Master Brakett, said the performers “help bring themselves together during breaks, getting to know each other and playing along.”

Scott was interested in how the story would be received in today’s society. He also wanted this to be an educational experience, for theatergoers and performers alike. The company of the show caught on to his vision.

“The main character has to play a really big role in defeating social norms in the era — adultery or love that isn’t labeled,” Lee said, noting what she did was considered a sin during the time period. “She’s able to encapsulate the idea of just being who you are and not letting anyone tell you differently.” 

The company hopes for a good turnout, especially due to the scarce advertising of the show by Baruch. The performers themselves wouldn’t have known about this production if they didn’t hear from their theater professors or reach out to the Department of Fine and Performing Arts.

“If I hadn’t gone to my advanced acting class and heard about the audition, I would not have known that our school has a show every semester,” Dang said. “I would like to make it known so that people will know more about the school play and pay more attention. The more the merrier.”

The production will run until Nov. 19, with tickets available through the Baruch Performing Arts Center online or at the box office. Tickets cost $16 for general admission and $10 for students with ID cards.