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Einstein!

 

                                           by Deirdre Donovan

 

Will 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

 

Fry, 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.

 

 

If 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.”

 

Yes, 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.

 

Yes, 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.”

 

While 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.”

 

This 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.

 

So 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.

 

Einstein! may 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 never.

 

Off Broadway solo play.

Extended through January 14th.

At the Under St. Marks Theatre, at 94 St. Mark’s Place, East Village in Manhattan.

For more information, visit www.einsteintheplay.com.

Running time:  approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.