1630. A terrible storm tosses
a ship sailing for Massachusetts Bay. The following morning, sun illuminates
the crowded deck of the ship Arabella as the coast of the New
World is sighted. It has been a long and perilous journey from England
and the passengers are weak and exhausted. As the craggy shores grow
closer, their powerful leader, John Winthrop, unites them all in a glowing
vision. (CITY UPON A HILL PROLOGUE).
1642. Twelve years later, the
town of Boston is thriving. Townspeople are tilling the soil, making
clothing, hunting animals, felling trees. Their lives are harsh and
unrewarding, but they have succeeded in building a society amidst the
wild. A town crier announces the trial of Hester Prynne, a woman
accused of adultery and bearing an illegitimate child. The whereabouts
of Hester’s husband are unknown and he is feared shipwrecked. The
shadowy Mistress Hibbins loudly speculates who the father of Hester’s
child might be, reveling in the gossip she creates. The town elders,
led by Governor Winthrop and Hibbins’ brother, Governor Bellingham,
arrive in the town with the town clergymen, Reverend John Wilson, and
Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. The townspeople gather to watch the
trial as Hester is led from jail, with the baby in her arms, to her
place on the scaffold. A stranger, Roger Chillingworth, arrives and
he and Hester see each other as she is interrogated by Winthrop and
Dimmesdale. When she refuses to offer the name of her secret lover,
Winthrop sentences Hester to one final night in prison and to an eternity
of public indignation-- the permanent wearing of the Scarlet Letter
“A”. The crowd prays for the Lord’s mercy and His guidance
of the colony (JUDGMENT DAY).
Later that same day, dusk is
falling and the elders gather to discuss the day’s events. A
mysterious figure walks quickly by, but is stopped by Governor Winthrop.
After tepid conversation, the elders learn that stranger’s name is
Roger Chillingworth, and that he is a doctor. Dimmesdale, appearing
distant, is called into the conversation and soon invites the stranger
to stay in the empty room in his home.
When night falls, Hester is
led back into her jail cell. Her marble façade begins to crack
in the solitude, as her baby cries in a makeshift crib by the only window.
Agitated, distressed and flooded with agonizing questions, she eventually
tosses her scarlet A to the floor (HESTER IN JAIL). When
she looks up, however, Roger Chillingworth is at the door. He
has gained entry under the guise that he is a doctor sent to administer
to the mother and child. When they are alone, they have a tense confrontation
(THE INTERVIEW) during which it is revealed that Roger is Hester’s
long lost husband who has finally returned to her after being shipwrecked
and living with the natives for several years. Roger is outraged at
Hester’s indiscretion and demands the name of the child’s father.
Hester refuses and Roger vows to stay in Boston until he roots out her
lover. They swear not to reveal that they know each other. Roger leaves
the trembling Hester. Eventually, a ray of moonlight shines through
the bars of the window onto the face of her sleeping daughter. She is
drawn to her child, and begins to experience a comfort, a purpose, and
a resolve. She will be free AT THE BREAK OF DAY, but she knows
her sentence has only begun.
1642-1649. Hester is a figure
of hate among the resentful Townspeople who treat her with bitter disdain
and outbursts of petty violence. Roger Chillingworth is welcomed as
the town physician, and takes up residence in an available room at the
home of Reverend Dimmesdale. As the years pass, the colony grows in
size and certain free-thinking individuals threaten to undermine the
singularity of Winthrop’s vision. We see further evidence of the colony’s
merciless treatment of its deviants. Governor Winthrop is ailing in
his old age, but remains a cherished leader in the community, aided
more and more by the blustery Bellingham and the sternly pious Wilson.
Dimmesdale has firmly established himself as the premier orator of the
town (HYMN). In time, Hester establishes herself as an expert
seamstress and provides the hypocritical and jealous townspeople with
finely woven linens and articles of clothing. She works hard to provide
for her daughter, Pearl, who is growing into an active and ebullient
child. As Pearl gets older and more uncontrollable, her impish ways
arouse the ire of the colonists. She is the elf-child. As the years
pass, Mistress Hibbins tries to entice Hester into the forest to join
her sisterhood and develops a special fondness for Pearl whom she considers
to be a kindred spirit. Against all this, the townspeople ostensibly
reaffirm their vision of the City Upon a Hill, and Hester fears she
may never earn acceptance (CITY UPON A HILL MONTAGE).
Seven years after he arrived
in Boston, Roger has become bitter with his failure to track down the
man who has stolen his wife (THE PHYSICIAN). He hatches a plan to root
out the culprit by urging the removal of the child from her mother and
observing who, if anyone, comes to their aid. Eventually, his musings
and machinations are cut short by news that the increasingly frail Dimmesdale
has fainted. Roger hurries to the home they share and administers a
potion. The two men share a warm camaraderie based on their mutual longing
for lives left behind in England. As they reminisce (THE LEECH AND HIS
PATIENT), they contemplate why they have come to the New World and where
their journey will take them. Left alone and unable to write his sermon,
Dimmesdale daydreams of Hester and Pearl (SMALL REMINDERS).
Pearl, now seven years old,
plays capriciously in the woods, singing a strange and free-spirited
song while ignoring calls of her mother to return home (PEARL’S SONG).
Mistress Hibbins, observing the young child, comes out of hiding and
urges Hester to join her in the woods (COME WITH ME). When Hester
declines, Mistress Hibbins reveals the secret she had overheard.
The plot hatched by Roger is beginning to unfold. Hester races
to the mansion to confront the elders
In a tense meeting at the GOVERNOR’S
HALL, the elders decide that Pearl should be removed from Hester’s
home and raised in a Christian environment, given the mounting paranoia
from the community that several women, including Hester and Pearl, are
practicing witchcraft. When Hester arrives with Pearl, a debilitated
and aged Winthrop attempts to calm the mother with great diplomatic
skill. The bumbling Bellingham, on the other hand, tries to placate
her while the patronizing Wilson tries to examine the child. The desperation
of Hester and the increasing agitation of Pearl frightens Wilson who
pronounces that they must take the girl at once. In a desperate
plea to Dimmesdale, the first words she has spoken to him in seven years,
Hester begs the pastor to speak for her. Dimmesdale, touched by the
sight of Pearl who seems instinctually drawn to him for protection,
delivers a tender and heartfelt petition to the Governors that Pearl
be allowed to stay with her mother. Winthrop is moved by Dimmesdale’s
words, much to the chagrin of Bellingham and Wilson. The dying governor,
knowing that this decision will be his last contribution to the colony,
pays tribute to Hester’s hard work in the community and allows her
to keep her child on condition she is brought up a God-fearing Christian.
Roger notes to himself Dimmesdale’s
heretofore unobserved compassion for Hester and her daughter.
Hester is left alone and begins
to wonder whether the heart of her child’s father might be changing
and whether her own life might now take a turn (THE TURNING).
Later that night, Dimmesdale,
unable to sleep and frustrated by his inability to write his sermon,
wanders out into the night, drawing closer with each staggered step
to the scaffold on which Hester stood seven years earlier. Hibbins foretells
of a nightmare about to unfold as Roger’s suspicions of Dimmesdale
plague his mind (REVELATIONS). Before Roger can confront Dimmesdale
he is called to the home of Governor Winthrop who is moments away from
death. As word of the Governor's imminent death spreads through the
town, Dimmesdale remains on the scaffold, tormented by visions of demons
that are torturing his soul for the secret he keeps. Finally, he screams
his confession, but to no avail: the town is silent except for the distant
knell announcing the death of the Governor. The Reverend collapses on
the scaffold, his secret remaining within.
Hester and Pearl arrive from
the Governor’s deathbed where Hester was measuring him for his burial
robes. Dimmesdale thinks he is dreaming and calls Hester and Pearl to
him. They join him on the scaffold, where Dimmesdale takes the child’s
hand. The townspeople gather in the Town Square to mourn their Governor
in a candlelight vigil as a terrific display of shooting stars streaks
across the blackened sky. Bellingham delivers a passionate eulogy..
Roger arrives and, from the shadows, observes Dimmesdale on the scaffold
with Hester and Pearl. He has at last found the culprit. (WHO IS THIS
MAN?) As dawn breaks, however, Roger does not spring the trap, but rather
sets a new one. Smiling warmly, he leads Dimmesdale from the scaffold
by the arm, promising to make his patient well again Hester and Pearl
are left alone on the scaffold as the sun rises over the City Upon a
END ACT ONE
Not long after Winthrop’s
death, Mistress Hibbins is still holding secret meetings in the forest
with other cloaked women of the colony. They curse and dance around
a campfire, and revel in the independence they only have at night deep
in the mire. Mistress Hibbins urges her “sisterhood” to see through
the pious façade which blinds the rest of the town, to celebrate their
predestiny and to BE TRUE to their hearts. The price of an eternity
of damnation should not be a life of hellfire.
As the witches disperse at
daybreak, Roger is drawn into the mire where the remains of Hibbins’
campfire smolder. As he rummages around for bits of herbs to use in
his potions, he is confronted by Hester who has sought him out to discuss
the health of Dimmesdale. Hester tells Roger that she must reveal his
secret identity to Dimmesdale, and that she cannot watch him torture
her child’s father any longer. Roger accepts Hester’s decision to
expose his identity to Dimmesdale, but vows to exact his revenge nonetheless.
They part ways agreeing to let the “black flower blossom as it may”.
Knowing that the endgame is
upon them, Roger begins to stir his final potion. As he swirls
the deep scarlet concoction, he is drawn hypnotically to its lethal
exhale. He brings the vile to his lips, but is startled by the
disfigured reflection in the glass. He descends into madness as
he wonders what he has become (THE BLACK FLOWER). Eventually,
he cuts himself and lets his own scarlet blood fall to the floor.
Before his blood empties out, he stops the wound, and resolves to see
the game to its end.
Later that day, Dimmesdale
is alone in his study, fitfully asleep at his desk. Roger enters
and places his cold hand on Dimmesdale’s chest, ostensibly to check
for a pulse. Dimmesdale is still alive—and Roger smiles.
Dimmesdale awakens with a start, and the final phase has begun.
Roger mixes the potion as he tries to get Dimmesdale to confess.
Roger is confronted still with Dimmesdale’s refusal and religious
insistence. He torments between killing Dimmesdale directly and
allowing him to debilitate further in hopes of obtaining that confession
(THE LEECH AND HIS PATIENT REPRISE). Frustrated, he chooses the
former, but Dimmesdale is startled by Pearl’s laughter and runs for
the door, dropping the potion to the floor.
Dimmesdale runs deep into the
woods, drawn inexplicably to the Brook. It is there he finds Hester
and Pearl. As Pearl plays in the water, Hester and Dimmesdale
reflect upon the seven years of silence between them, and realize that
they are still in love. Hester reveals that Roger is her husband and
Dimmesdale is shaken deep inside. Hester lets her hair down, tears the
Scarlet Letter from her dress, and convinces Dimmesdale that they could
escape their suffering and sail back to England to start over as a family.
They pledge to sail away from Boston on the next boat (THE BROOK).
Dimmesdale exits, dropping his cloak in breathless haste. Hester takes
Pearl in the opposite direction, but Pearl stops suddenly at the sight
of her mother’s empty chest. She spots the scarlet letter and,
grabbing it, sticks it back on her mother’s chest. The clouds
gather and the storm begins. Hester and Pearl run off. Roger
comes into the open and picks up Dimmesdale’s cloak. He is devastated.
The townspeople prepare for
the annual Election Day holiday which will honor Bellingham who has
succeeded the late Governor Winthrop. Hester purchases three tickets
back to England from a Ship Captain. As soon as she leaves, Roger
purchases one for himself. Hibbins confronts Roger noisily, and
when Reverend Wilson (who has no idea of the plans afoot) upbraids her,
she remains defiant. Reverend Wilson has finally had enough, and
orders for her to be taken away. There is great unrest in the
rapidly growing city, and as they prepare to symbolically unite behind
Bellingham, it is clear that they are a city divided by many issues,
on the threshold of enormous change (NEW ENGLAND HOLIDAY).
As she prepares to leave Boston
later that night, Hester reflects that life is made up of journeys and
choices and turnings (JOURNEY).
Later that same night, Dimmesdale
is at his desk at home, unable to write the Election Day sermon because
he is paralyzed by guilt and fear (THE CONFRONTATION). Roger confronts
Dimmesdale there again—this time more urgently and violently.
Eventually the psychological torture yields to the physical and Dimmesdale
falls to his knees. But, rather than confess, he simply asks to
the Lord to take his life. Roger lets the withered and quivering Dimmesdale
fall to the floor without delivering the death blow. Instead,
he places Dimmesdale’s cloak over the minister’s body, removes the
cross Dimmesdale gave him and lets the symbol fall to the floor triumphantly,
The townspeople eagerly make
their way to the Town Square to watch the processional of the town elders
and Governor Bellingham to the church. Hester and Pearl are met by the
Ship Captain who informs them that Dr. Chillingworth will be joining
them on their journey away from Boston. Hester tries to tell Dimmesdale
not to meet her on the ship as he passes in the processional but is
stopped by Reverend Wilson. Pearl runs off, and Hester and Roger are
left standing outside the church as Dimmesdale’s oration begins. Dimmesdale
delivers a powerful ELECTION DAY SERMON in which he tries to tell the
townspeople that he is a sinner. The townspeople believe he is making
a symbol of himself and instead of looking down on him, become frenzied
in their adoration of him. Unable to bear the adulation of the congregation
any longer, Dimmesdale breaks away from the pulpit and runs out into
the square, eventually ascending the scaffold. The crowd follows him
and, in the chaos that ensues, Hester and Roger both ascend the scaffold
as Dimmesdale confesses he is the father of Hester’s child to the
stunned crowd below. He collapses into Hester’s arms, finally relieved
of his secret, but at the cost of his life. Roger falls upon the
steps, defeated by Dimmesdale’s self-confession and escape through
death. Drawn to the ethereal song of his little Pearl, Dimmesdale slips
away amidst a delicate rain of rose petals.
As the townspeople recede into
the distance, Hester realizes that her own journey is ending and her
daughter’s is about to begin. Like the wild rose bush alongside the
jail, Hester’s place is in the colony. But like the little red bird,
Pearl will someday fly away. Hester and Pearl embrace on the scaffold
before Pearl descends the steps. The mother releases her grief
and places her hopes and dreams onto her precious daughter. Hester
is alone now on the scaffold, and she is at peace (EPILOGUE).
END ACT TWO