“You’re all here to have your palms read?” asks Machaela Shuchman, playing an elegant, wise-beyond-her-(apparent)-years woman in Ross & Digg’s SCARLETT LETTERS. The title refers, of course, to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American classic of a woman shamed by her community. Rather than read our palms, Shuchman’s character tells us her destiny: to take on the shame of Hester Prynn—and all women.
“Men become martyrs for their sin,” she tells us. “Women have to live with their sin.” The claim is part of a long reveal by playwright Patrick Ross, who gives us a history of sexism, quotes and references to literature and mythology, and plenty of Hawthorne in a smartly woven one-woman show. Perhaps this lady has more reason than it seems to be invested in Hester’s shame? (“I’m older than I look”, she says.) Shuchman is a committed and engaging actor; singing a song to composer Kimaya Diggs’s entrancing acoustic soundtrack she reveals a beautiful voice too. But Ross has lofty goals for his character. It’s a lot to ask for one woman to embody lifetimes of female shame and sin. There are some appealing devices (a winding scroll of the Fall from Grace), but much of the monolog is delivered seated at a table, with few story hooks and a Hawthorne-like use of humor (that is, little). Shuchman make strong demands of pathos; we’re never quite invested enough to receive them.
[Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 North American Street] September 10-24, 2016; fringearts.com/scarlet-letters.