By Eugene Paul
power of the Einstein aura proves once again unending
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.
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?
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
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
there was really only one question: what about Lieserl?
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.
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
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
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
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.”
the Penguin Rep Theatre, 7 Crickettown Road, Stony Point, NY. Tickets: $46.
845-786-2873. 85 min. Thru June 10.