By Associate Producer Dennis Chambers
It’s been nearly 30 years since Two River Theater founder Bob Rechnitz left his post as the revered Professor of American Literature at Monmouth University in Long Branch, NJ. Among the many great American novels included in Bob’s syllabi, there was always one constant: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” What a coincidence then, or perhaps more an alignment of fates, that Two River’s new Artistic Director, Justin Waldman, would choose Kate Hamill’s adaptation of this classic novel to present in his
very first curated season.
As we approach the 175th anniversary of its initial publication, Hawthorne’s tale remains a timeless source of valuable lessons. “The Scarlet Letter,” at its core, is an exploration of the societies we’ve built and how we choose to live in them. Bob’s lecture notes show that he, like playwright Kate Hamill, saw Hawthorne’s story as a starkly relevant tale that remains significant.
In Professor Rechnitz’s eloquent words, “The Scarlet Letter” is “…a novel about the
complexly designed fabric of human relationships in their broadest context—that of society as a whole. It is a novel about that society and about the possibility of converting that society into something of greater value—a community in which Hester dreams, in the final words of the book, ‘the whole relation between man and woman’ will be established ‘on a surer ground of mutual happiness.'”
All these years later, the message that was conveyed by Professor Rechnitz still remains etched in the minds of the students he taught. Two River Theater patron, Chryssa Yaccarino (MU ’90), recounted her memories of Professor Rechnitz and what she recalls from his lectures:
“Bob offered profound insights into Hawthorne’s resentment towards Puritan intolerance and moral rigidity, as portrayed in ‘The Scarlet Letter’ (a resentment that Bob himself evidently shared). Bob’s classes served as a means of introspection, prompting his students to reflect on our own human condition through the texts and the artistic expressions of the authors and poets we studied. These lessons continue to hold a special place in my heart—as does Bob.”
In choosing to present Kate’s searing adaptation, Justin recognized that what Hester Prynne has to offer us is essential – and not just to every up-and-coming generation of scholars, but also to theatergoers. Here on our stage, the legacy of Bob Rechnitz, his love for Hawthorne’s work, and the vision of Two River Theater come together, offering us a timeless reflection on the human experience.