Hester -The Scarlet Letter

By Barbara Harbach
Published: 1991

Somber townspeople gather in a square dominated by a platform and pillory on one side and a prison on the other. They sing of Puritan values and their sense of community in the hymn-like A Massachusetts Blessing (Song 1). A strident voice cries out scornfully, focusing the crowd on the prison in Death to Hester (Song 2). Inside, Hester embroiders and sings of the lessons learned from Every Stitch on My Letter (Song 3). Hester emerges from the prison and is met with the ridicule and contempt of the crowd in Hester, Hussy (Song 4). Her long-absent husband appears, learns of her adultery, and sings Ha! Chillingworth (Song 5).

The town elders recite the case against Hester, urge her to confess to Falsehoods of the Flesh (Song 6), and name the father of her child. Standing on their Platform of Shame (Song 7), Hester refuses to implicate the Rev. Dimmesdale. He sings Silent Shame (Song 8) which subtly reveals his dilemma and foreshadows his death. Hester, condemned to the pillory, sings philosophically of her self-reliance in Here I Stand (Song 9). The men sing Secrets of the Heart (Song 10), with the Governor, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth each admitting he is drawn to Hester.

Chillingworth establishes a wary truce with Hester in Chain of Iron (Song 11) and convinces Hester to keep his identity secret. The Man of Iron Will (Song 12) underscores ChillingworthÕs determination to find Dimmesdale. Interlude: Waiting and Watching (Song 13) reinforces whatÕs at stake for each of the three main characters, over the passage of seven years.

Act Two opens with PearlÕs Dance (Song 14) and Pearl, Priceless Pearl (Song 15) which establish the affection of mother and daughter. They appear before the elders who are torn between seeing Pearl as a Scarlet Elf (Song 16) and a witch in HesterÕs Child (Song 17). Hester rebuts the elders with a reprisal of Every Stitch (Song 18). Dimmesdale comes to her defense, suggesting that Pearl is a Blessing Born of Sin (Song 19).

A strange chemistry is brewing between Chillingworth and Dimmesdale in Rival Elements (Song 20). When DimmesdaleÕs health fails, Chillingworth exults that My VictimÕs on the Rack (Song 21). Dimmesdale stands at midnight on the pillory, seeking A MomentÕs Peace (Song 22) from his inner torment. He is joined by Hester and Pearl as One Family Hand in Hand (Song 23).

Hester confronts Chillingworth in A Black Flower (Song 24) and reminisces about her youth in What Happened (Song 25). Meanwhile, Pearl meets a witch who suggests that all society hides behind The Cloak of Piety (Song 26). Hester and Dimmesdale meet and discuss their hopes for the future in IÕll Be Your Heart (Song 27). With The Scarlet LetterÕs Gone (Song 28), they would both at long last experience relief, and even joy. Hester puts her letter back on and briefly reprises Every Stitch (Song 29).

Events quickly reach a climax in the festive New England celebration of Election Day Chorus (Song 30) which moves directly into a reprise of the initial A Massachusetts Blessing (Song 31) as they file into church. Dimmesdale preaches an enigmatic and moving Election Day sermon about The Promised Land (Song 32) that he wonÕt reach. Shocking everyone, he reaches out to Hester and Pearl. They stand together on the pillory and publicly reprise One Family Hand in Hand (Song 33). Chillingworth loses his victim, Dimmesdale dies, and Hester, standing with Pearl, reprises Here I Stand (Song 34).