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                         By Eugene Paul


The power of the Einstein aura proves once again unending


Is Albert Einstein  never out of the sphere of  public awe, interest, challenge?  Simultaneously with an heightened worldwide race to develop AI –artificial intelligence --all harkening back to the great man himself, is expanded interest in Einstein, the private man. And among conjectures, Relativity, the title itself redolent with multiple overtones, is playwright Mark St.Germain’s intriguing, underdone drama, compellingly mounted in this Penguin 2018 opener, their forty-first season in that charmer of a barn theatre.


In January of 1902, young Albert Einstein—he was 22 – and Mileva Maric, 26, students in Zurich, had a baby daughter, Lieserl. It was a crushing secret from their parents. Albert graduated, desperate for a job in order to marry Mileva.  Mileva, still at her expensive studies her parents could ill afford, was determined to pass her graduation examinations as a physicist but failed. And by 1903 baby Lieserl had vanished, never to be spoken of again until mention of her existence turned up in Einstein correspondence archives fifty years after Einstein’s death in 1958. It seemed she had contracted Scarlet fever in her very first year and died.  Or, had she?  Had she been given away?  Had she been adopted? Had she, indeed, survived?


Hooked by the mystery, playwright St. Germain sets us in 1949 to begin his construction of events based on what he could find.  Einstein (fine Robert Zukerman) is seventy, long at Princeton, the most famous man in the world, flush with honors. Alone, a widower of 13 years after his second wife, Elsa, had died, estranged from his sons, only his housekeeper, Miss Dukas, (excellent Susan Pellegrino) fiercely vigilant , diligently cosseting,  protective, a self appointed gate keeper


 Einstein, it seems, was not only astoundingly brilliant, he was exceptionally randy and had been all his life. So that when he was accosted by a handsome woman one wintry evening on campus hurrying home from his office, he it was who invited her into the house despite housekeeper Miss Dukas’ remonstrances. He it was who turned on the charm.  She it was who was uncomfortable, awkward, yet strangely determined to ask her questions. She was Margaret Harding (Celeste Ciulla), a reporter.


But there  was really only one question:  what about Lieserl?


This was more than a reporter’s snooping, prying into  the dim, troubled past and we are not surprised when Miss Dukas breaks into their closed door tete a tete with the news that Miss Harding is a fraud, that there is no such reporter on the publication she claimed to work for. Einstein, composed, doesn’t turn a single hair of his famous locks.  He sends Miss Dukas out and shuts the door again. He expects Margaret to say she’s really Lieserl. She looks to be the right age, she seems intelligent, well educated, a mass of conflicting emotions. And, of course, she does claim to be Lieserl.


Playwright St. Germain then makes a strange, strategic choice: in the brisk duel between Einstein and his long lost putative daughter, accusation, riposte, counterthrust – he knows how to build a good scene – he leaves holes, and just as we are wondering if , indeed, this is really Lieserl, he has her introduce a singularly poignant element: she has a son, a 14 year old brilliant son, whose IQ is even greater than Einstein’s. He has among other scholarships, a full boat to Princeton.  She does not want him to study under Einstein. His grandfather.


And we are thrown into another play. It seemed at first as though it were going to be an Einstein story, and then it slewed into a long lost daughter story and now we are broaching multiple layers of stored revenge, reproach, manipulation, power plays on emotional vulnerabilities with  a brilliant, unknowing boy as pawn.  Suddenly the prospects for the play have grown sharply in impact and pungency.


Has director Joe Brancato encouraged this developing tiger by the tail? It would appear to be difficult to do so.  His leading lady, Celeste Ciulla, is so studied in her performance  we can’t forget she’s  acting, a style very popular long ago which informed us we were getting our money’s worth. Robert Zukerman, in turn, has to counter-act and does so radiating charm and the famous Einstein bare ankles.  Susan Pellegrino is  a grand, uptight slavey.  Scenic designer Brian Prather gives us rather stingy quarters which do not reflect well on Princeton and an odd arm chair facing oddly. Everyone was well dressed by costume designer Patricia E.Doherty.


 The packed house of faithful Penguin followers seemed properly  enthralled, with good reason. And, quoting Einstein: ”Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”


Relativity. At the Penguin Rep Theatre, 7 Crickettown Road, Stony Point, NY. Tickets: $46. 845-786-2873. 85 min. Thru June 10.