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Aux Dog updates ‘Scarlet Letter’s’ language, attitudes

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Hester Pryne might have been the first exemplar of the #MeToo movement.

This isn’t your high school’s “Scarlet Letter.”

Phyllis Nagy’s adaption of the Nathaniel Hawthorne classic shifts both the language and the attitudes of the original into a contemporary update. The Aux Dog Theatre will present the play with a cast of seven beginning Friday, Sept. 7.

Caitlin Kelly plays Hester Prynne in “The Scarlet Letter.”

“The minister (the Rev. Dimmesdale) in the novel is probably one of the biggest hypocrites in society,” artistic director Victoria Liberatori said.

Widely regarded as America’s first great novel, the story takes the audience back to Puritan Boston. Those deemed adulterous were punished by everything from public shaming to whipping. Of course, public officials aimed most of this abuse toward women.

Hester chooses to wear her punishment, a scarlet “A,” in an act of defiance. She also refuses to name the father of her illegitimate child. Then her presumably dead husband appears.

In Nagy’s version, the audience views these events through the eyes of Hester’s adult child, Pearl, who is now 27.

“It’s holding up a mirror to where we are now,” director Douglas Garland said. “Pearl has been raised in a hands-off fashion and allowed to pursue her own devices without a lot of discipline.

“Pearl’s a real rebel, and she is a very modern little girl,” he said. “She does not tolerate the hypocrisy of her father.”

After Hester’s imprisonment, Pearl’s presumed father, the Rev. Dimmesdale, pressures the governor for her release. The locals publicly shame her in the town square, calling her names.

“She stands up and yells back, ‘You’re a witch!’ ” Garland said. “You see Hester set up as a powerful woman.”

An American playwright, Nagy wrote the screenplay for the 2015 Oscar-nominated movie “Carol,” starring Cate Blanchett.