by Deirdre Donovan
the real Albert Einstein please stand up? That question may seem odd to
ask today given that the famous physicist died over 60 years ago. But as
actor-playwright Jack Fry brings his new solo play Einstein! to the Stem
Festival in the East Village, theatergoers may get their first up-close look at
the man behind the icon.
photographs from Ze’ Castle Photography
who wrote and performs the play, was inspired to create this work following the
release of 15,000 documents on Einstein in 2007. According to my press
materials, Fry felt that the icon had been “cheapened” and caricatured in our
culture and wanted to replace the caricature with a true portrait of the
historical figure. Instead of focusing on Einstein’s mature years when he was
celebrated by the world as the “Father of Relativity,” Fry decided that he
would portray the man during his earlier years when he was trying to make a
name for himself in the world of science—and everything was going wrong. To
wit: World War 1 was breaking out, his general theory on relativity was being
rejected--or stolen—by the pundits at the Berlin Academy, his first marriage
was falling apart, and his relationship with his 10 year-old son Hans was
slowly deteriorating. In short, we meet Einstein on the cusp of his greatest
breakthrough in physics, an isolated man who’s unpopular with the academics and
alienated from his family.
this play sounds like a downer, it’s not. As performed by the sensitive Fry,
this show is filled with humor, wit, and humanity. Fry inhabits, in fact,
eight different personas during his performance, including several
movers-and-shakers of the then scientific world; his son Hans; and of course
Einstein himself. In addition, there’s the disembodied voice of his first wife
Mileva (Alexandra Kovacs) edging into the monologue now and then, which adds
heaping teaspoons of marital discord to this historic drama. In fact, after
one particularly heated phone conversation with his estranged wife, Fry, as
Einstein, turns to the audience and wryly comments: “I didn’t know which would
last longer—the war or my divorce proceedings.”
Fry points out repeatedly in his new play that life was no rose garden for the
up-and-coming Einstein. Although the physicist could poetically describe the
orbits of Mercury as curving like the petals of a flower, he also would compare
his own chaotic life to being like a circus in full swing.
we see Fry’s Einstein, like the mythic Sisyphus, working on projects that
seemed fated to fail. Whether it was trying to capture a clear photo of an
eclipse or working out a mathematical formula in his Berlin study, we witness
Einstein frustrated time and again by war complications, inclement weather, or
just plain weariness. We also see Einstein confronting his personal failures
as a parent. First, with his infant daughter who he gave up for adoption when
he was a 23-year old man. Then with his young son Hans who he rarely saw or
visited, in spite of the fact that he dubbed him “the apple of my isotope.”
Fry does a fine job at depicting Einstein as an ambitious physicist, he really
is at his best showing him as an emotionally-torn father and family man. In
fact, the most poignant—and profound--words in this play are said by Einstein
to Hans at the Enigma Café in Berlin. There Einstein tries to imprint upon his
impressionable 5 year-old son the best philosophy for life, which he simply
summed: “Never stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
We should never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery
to which we are born.”
is not the first iteration of Einstein! It has been staged at several
Fringe Festivals across the country, earning festival honors wherever it
landed. This past summer at the 2016 New York Fringe Festival, it was
spotlighted in the media as one of the Top 10 Shows to See.
why does Einstein! rise above the usual run-of-the-mill solo show? Well, Fry’s
painstaking research helps. Although Fry readily has admitted to having no
background in theoretical physics (in a recent WNYC interview with Leonard
Lopate), the play prompted him to bring on board a physics consultant who
ensured that the script was solidly grounded in its physics concepts and
terminology. Moreover, for all the projections of cosmic images that are
interspersed throughout the performance, Fry relied on some talented folk at
the History Channel. In short, everything you see and hear in this play has
already passed muster with those in the know about physics and history.
well be the only play about the famous scientist that traces his 15-year
journey in developing his general theory of relativity. It’s currently in a
brief run at the Stem Festival in the East Village. Catch it now, or catch it
Broadway solo play.
through January 14th.
the Under St. Marks Theatre, at 94 St. Mark’s Place, East Village in Manhattan.
more information, visit www.einsteintheplay.com.
time: approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.