Credit: Austin D. Oie

Red Tape Theatre presents Suzan-Lori Parks’s 1999 Pulitzer-nominated riff on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. In Parks’s version, Hester (Jyreika Guest) lives in a lean-to under a graffitied highway overpass with her five fatherless children, scrounging for scraps to survive while appealing to anyone who will listen to help her find a way out of her situation.

Every authority figure in Hester’s life—the doctor, the welfare worker, the preacher, and the father of her firstborn—abuses her in some way. Hester is presented as a cross between Job and Mary Magdalene, suffering and bearing the sins of others presumably for some higher purpose. But to me, no such purpose ever presented itself; instead, what I saw was a wretched person tortured and tormented for two hours until she snaps and lashes out in a murderous rage.

Speaking of snaps, I heard a bunch of the slam-poetry variety from the audience at dramatic moments in the play. The gesture is a mark of approval, an endorsement of what they were hearing and seeing. Maybe I missed something or this work wasn’t meant for me, but I heard no music in Parks’s words, nor any resonance in this story. Watching an illiterate homeless woman being called a slut by everyone in her life, then being driven to kill may have been meant to be a condemnation of an uncaring world, but it comes off as wallowing in misery to no discernible end. Chika Ike directed.   v