Baruch’s ‘Scarlet Letter’ production compels audience with stimulating performance

Caryl Anne Francia, Business Editor

The company of Baruch College’s production of “The Scarlet Letter” delivered a compelling performance on its opening night in the Bernie West Theater on Nov. 15.

Within an hour and 50 minutes, which includes a 10-minute intermission between the two acts, audiences are transported from the Lawrence & Eris Field Building’s Bernie West Theater to mid-1600s Boston, where the characters are not as puritanical as society wants them to be.

Adapted from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, playwright Phyllis Nagy’s stage story portrays the ostracization of an adulteress and the relations she has with the men in her life and her eccentric daughter, who also serves as a narrator.

Although the last lyric in the show’s pre-show music whispers “I will kill you,” the cast emerges from an ominous and dark environment to give life to their characters.

While harboring their own bit of mystery, each performer brings their own powerful voice and energy to their role.

Rachelle Hernandez’s portrayal of Hester Prynne carries both her character’s sensual nature and motherly personality in her sonorous voice. She is a stimulating woman who not only draws ridicule from the other characters but the fascination of the audience members.

Hanah Dang’s portrayal of Prynne’s daughter Pearl possesses a realistically childlike innocence with her smile and sweet voice. But the performer stuns the audience with her sly comments.

Raoul Gadir’s rendition of Arthur Dimmesdale may bear the widest emotional range in the show. Portrayed with compassion, he especially shines in scenes where he is pitted against his guilt and insecurities.

While freshman Ethan Lee may be the youngest in the cast, his version of Roger Chillingworth bears the sharpness of an old wise man. His wit guarantees to make the audience chuckle, but he is more cunning than he appears.

Emanuel Pinkhasov’s portrayal of Gov. Bellingham steals the scene with his flamboyant appearance and the splendorous delivery of his lines. Though he doesn’t appear as often as the others, Raffael Raisan’s kindhearted rendition of Master Brackett guarantees to make the audience grin each time.

Brittany Williams’ performance as Mistress Hibbins is wickedly fine as she charms the audience in her appearances. Although she didn’t perform on opening night, understudy Stephany Pineda Cardoso gave life to Hibbins during the dress rehearsal, giving her own sultry take on the witch.

Christopher Scott’s direction intertwines passionate dialogue with physical tension to bring out these characters. Each intimate touch, whether sexual or amiable, has its own significance and elicits a reaction from the audience.

Theatergoers who are new to the story are in for a ride that will make them gasp. At times, they will roar with laughter or “ooh” at remarks. When observing some of the play’s imagery, they may even drop their jaws or curl their bodies.

Those who have read the novel will get to enjoy the story in a new light and form. They may be surprised by the playwright’s choice of giving Pearl more prominence. In Baruch’s production, this gives the audience the privilege of seeing more of Dang’s version of Pearl.

The play’s set is physically minimalistic but maximized for the imagination. The lighting design shifts, allowing the show to alternate between being surreal and being ethereal. The period costumes worn by the performers are aesthetic, contributing to the atmosphere of the play.

The show’s accompanying soundtrack adds to the show’s aura, at times reminiscent of a music box’s whimsical tune and a dark and stormy night. Additionally, the sounds of heavy rain pouring outside from the theater’s windows during the opening performance were a bonus from nature.

Like the titular letter, this play will leave a lasting, tasteful impression on watchers. To miss this production would be a sin.