I always come at adaptation from a new play lens – that is, I treat it like a new play – a collaboration with the original author, as opposed to a reproduction. So when I started writing Scarlet Letter, I wanted to write a play that re-examines our country’s history of misogyny, fear of female sexuality, and fear of the “other.”
The play begins with an act of betrayal that’s so deep and so shocking, that the majority of the characters spend the whole rest of their lives dealing with its ramifications. And I think that’s incredibly important – to show a historically accurate depiction of something ‘unforgiveable.’ Our country has a really complicated relationship with forgiveness and absolution, and that dates all the way back to the Puritans. When people have done something wrong, they’re often regarded as irrevocably tainted in some way, and we don’t have a lot of paths to ‘redemption’. In this play, I’m often examining that cultural legacy… what do you do, when you’ve committed what you consider (or the society around you considers) an unforgivable act? And of course, I’m very interested in how that question relates to our own country’s complicated history. This is a story about the early days of America – but it’s also very much about us, here and now.
With all that said, I believe, very much, that in a serious story, you have to find the joy and the reason to fight forward – the ups as well as the downs. And I REALLY believe that theater should celebrate the specifically theatrical… that which can only be done on stage, as opposed to the comparative “naturalism” of film. I think you’ll find a LOT of surprises in this particular play and production. It’s irreverent, and parts of it are quite funny, and we aim for it to be very much a mixture of the light and the dark – the celebration and catharsis that can only happen in the theater, when we’re all in the room where it happens, together.
If you like or remember the novel, you’ll find elements you recognize – and if you have no relationship with the novel at all, you’ll find a story that engages you on its own. The play is – fortunately or unfortunately – quite timely.
The Scarlet Letter runs from February 3—25/ 2024.
Kate Hamill is a playwright and actor based in NYC. She has spent multiple seasons on the most-produced playwright list in American Theatre Magazine. Her most recent work includes MS. HOLMES & MS. WATSON-#2B at Kansas City Rep/Portland Center Stage, EMMA at The Guthrie, DRACULA at Classic Stage Company, LITTLE WOMEN at Primary Stages/Jungle Theater and MANSFIELD PARK at Northlight Theater.
Kate’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s SENSE & SENSIBILITY (in which she originated the role of Marianne Dashwood) had its world premiere off-Broadway, produced by Bedlam. It was named one of the “Top Ten Plays of 2014” by both Ben Brantley of the New York Times and by the Huffington Post, which called it “the greatest stage adaptation of this novel in history.” It reopened in New York in 2016 at the Gym at Judson where it ran for almost 300 performances.
Other plays include VANITY FAIR which debuted at The Pearl Theater with an extended run and was seen in a co-production between Shakespeare Theater in DC and American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. Her adaptation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE started at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in a production that moved to Primary Stages. She is published by Dramatists Play Service and TRW Plays.