By Karen Isaacs
Einstein was a genius; everyone agrees. But Relativity the new play by Mark St. Germain now at TheaterWorks through Nov. 23, explores Einstein the husband, father and man.
In particular, the play deals with Einstein’s daughter Liserl who has been a mystery to Einstein biographers. Liserl was born before he and his first wife, Mileva Maric married. No definite proof seems to exist as to what happened to her; some believe she was raised by Maric’s relatives and others believe she was adopted.
Relativity – an obvious play on Einstein’s famous theory as well as the idea of relatives – opens in Princeton in the late ‘40s or early ’50. Einstein is now elderly though still working at the Institute while the FBI snoops around. Apparently J. Edgar Hoover was convinced Einstein was a security risk, possibly because he became active in anti-war and anti-bomb causes. His housekeeper/mistress Helen looks after him and regards most visitors with suspicion.
The play begins with Einstein meeting Margaret Harding who says she is a new reporter for a Jewish newspaper and wants to interview him. He finds the woman attractive and invites her home; Helen is immediately on guard.
What starts as a relatively normal interview soon veers off. It seems that Helen has done her homework and has talked with Einstein’s sons who don’t view him as “warm and fuzzy.” When he wants to cut short the interview she whips out a form that promises to let him review and reject anything she writes.
If you are convinced she isn’t who she seems to be, you are right. Her questions become more and more pointed; she seems to have lots of questions about Einstein’s parenting and marriage. The implication is that while Einstein may have been a genius, he was not a very nice man – an uninvolved father who wanted quiet and ignored his sons, and a philandering husband who demanded that the household revolve around his needs and desires.
It may not be a surprise that Margaret Harding is Liserl, the daughter who was given up for adoption. Though she claims her adoptive family was terrific and her father “a great man” who sacrificed a potentially life-changing commission as an artist to care for his wife – she seems intent on trying to get some acknowledgement from Einstein of his paternity and his failings. He admits the paternity.
St. Germain, whose plays often deal with historical characters, is attempting to raise a bigger issue here, which can be phrased in two ways. One, why do we assume that geniuses should also have sterling characters and moral compasses? The other question is related: do character flaws diminish the accomplishments of genius? After all Mozart wrote sublime music that can lift our spirits and thoughts yet he was a drunk, selfish, promiscuous man. Does the latter diminish or negate the former?
Richard Dreyfuss is Albert Einstein. Dreyfus know his way around a stage and it shows. But
this Einstein at times seems more like a cherub that the genius. He is by turns flirtatious, defensive, charming and remote. His moods swing and he can make an easy joke or give a cold stare. At times he reminds me of an almost Santa-like figure. He is both naïve and very aware; gullible and guarded.
If Dreyfuss gives us an Einstein who is less scientific genius and more playful old man, Christa Scott-Reed gives us a Margaret who seems both cruel and needy. She often plays the role as a prosecuting attorney. You can’t always buy her story of a happy adoptive family; the axe she has to grind is too huge.
Lori Wilner is Helen, whose role is to be both protective and at times the humorous foil for all that is going on around her.
The cast works superbly together. It is a minuet that is skillfully danced, thanks in large part to director Rob Ruggiero.
Brian Prather has created a wonderful set that shows Einstein’s office in his home with windows that look out onto snow-covered tree limbs. It feels warm and cozy. Alejo Vietti’s costume design are perfect for the period and remind us of how much more formal that period was.
In truth, Relativity is really a family drama about a daughter who feels deprived of her father’s love. What makes it unusual is that this father was Einstein.
While St. Germain toys with the larger issues, too often these are sacrificed for the domestic drama and the consoling ending. It seems that Einstein has a heart after all.
Relativity is an enjoyable 90 minutes in the theater in part due to the fine direction and acting. Yet, it could have been more.
It is at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford through Nov. 23. For tickets, call 860-527-7838.
Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater
By Karen Isaacs
Oscar Winner in Hartford: Richard Dreyfuss, who won an Oscar and has performed before in Connecticut at Long Wharf, has joined the cast of Relativity, at TheaterWorks. The new play by Mark St. Germain is about a mystery in Einstein’s life: the birth of a daughter in 1902 who was never heard about after 1904. Years later, Einstein is questioned about it by a young reporter. Dreyfuss will play Einstein. Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero directs. The play runs to Nov. 13. For tickets visit TheatreWorks.
Bank Ad Causes Controversy: Wells Fargo Bank probably thought the ad series for the Teen Financial Education Day (Saturday, Sept. 17) was just clever. But the ad series raised the ire of the artistic community, so much so that the company issued an apology and withdrew the ads. The headlines in the ads featured phrase such as “a ballerina yesterday. An engineer today.” These headlines were interpreted as implying that artists would be better served by going into the sciences. Social media is awash in variations on the idea, such as “Bob Newhart – an accountant yesterday, a comedian and star today.”
Theater’s Loss: The death of Edward Albee at the age of 88 is an enormous loss for not just American theater but the world. While he is best known for his biting but humorous look at marriage in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? his other works often shocked and puzzled audiences while exploring important issues about relationships. Connecticut audiences were blessed to see fine productions throughout the state: Mark Lamos directed several excellent productions at Hartford Stage, as did Michael Wilson. Long Wharf had a memorable production of Virginia Woolf starring Mike Nichols and Elaine May.
Tickets on Sale: Tickets are on salefor the new musical Anastasia which had its premiere at Hartford Stage last spring. Tickets are available at Telecharge.com. Also going on sale are tickets for the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which will star two-time Tony winner Christian Borle which opens in April. It’s also available at Telecharge.
Broadway Notes: Tony nominees Kate Baldwin will play Irene Molloy and Gavin Ceel will play Corneilus Hackl in the Bette Middler – David Hyde Pierce revival of Hello, Dolly! which opens this spring. The first day that tickets were on sale via Telecharge, sales exceeded $9 million. Something Rotten! closes on January 1 after an almost two year run; Jersey Boys will also end it’s 11-year run on Jan. 15. Following it into the August Wilson Theater will be the musical, Groundhog Day which won raves in London. Andy Karl stars. There’s some talk that Colin Firth may star as Professor Higgins in a revival of My Fair Lady; we can only hope. If you can’t get tickets to Hamilton you may be able to get tickets to the parody Spamilton which was developed by the creator of Forbidden Broadway. Lin-Manuel Miranda has apparently given his approval. It runs through Oct. 30, off-Broadway. Tickets are available at triad.nyc.com/buy-tickets.
Goodspeed Next Year: Goodspeed next year will present two revivals and a new version of musical flop PLUS three new musicals at The Terris Theater. The season opens with the Tony-winning Thoroughly Modern Millie (April 21-July2), followed by the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma1 (July 14 –Sept. 28) and the season concludes with a revision of the Charles Strouse (Annie) and Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) musical Rags (Oct. 6-Dec. 10). At The Terris Theatre are the new musicals Deathless (June 2- July2), Darling Grenadine (Aug. 18-Sept. 17) and A Connecticut Christmas Carol (Nov. 17-Dec. 24). Season tickets are now on sale at 860-873-8668. Tickets for individual productions go on sale Feb. 19th.
Off-Broadway Notes: The Classic Stage Company is presenting the world premiere of Dead Poets Society directed by Tony winner John Doyle based on the film. Jason Suderikis stars in the Robin Williams role. It begins previews Oct. 27. For tickets call 212-352-3101 or visit Classic Stage. The Signature Theatre Off-Broadway is presenting Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold” …. and the Boys began on Oct. 18. The play had its world premiere at Yale Rep. Fugard will direct the work. For tickets call 212-244-7529 or Signature Theatreg.
What Kind of Fool? Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury is continuing the Anthony Newley trend in Connecticut with He Wrote Good Songs. Earlier this year there was a concert of his music at the Madison Library, and then a reimagined production of his musical (with Leslie Bricusse) The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd at the Goodspeed’s Terris Theater. Newley was a British actor, singer, songwriter and more who wrote musicals and hit songs: “Goldfinger,” “The Candy Man,” “What Kind of Fool Am I?’ and “Who Can I Turn To? among others. Jon Peterson has conceived, written and will perform the show. He has done similar work with a show on George M. Cohan. The one man show runs Nov. 3 to Nov. 27. For tickets, call 203-757-4676 or visit Seven Angels.
New Musical: Ivoryton is presenting the Connecticut premiere of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical from Oct. 26 to Nov. 13. Clooney started as a band singer, moving on to recording a number of pop hits in the ‘50s and developing a movie career. Later in life she was a respected jazz and cabaret artist. The musical is described as a biography with her signature songs woven into her story – both her professional life and her struggles in her personal life which included marriage to actor Jose Ferrer and five children. For tickets call 860-767-7318 or visit Ivoryton.
Suspense: MTC in Norwalk is presenting the Tony-winning thriller, Sleuth from Nov. 4 to Nov. 20. The play which also had a successful film that starred Sir Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, is a cat-and-mouse thriller about a celebrated mystery writer and the younger hairdresser who is his wife’s lover. For tickets call 203-354-3883 or visit MTC
Starting the Holidays: The Palace Theater in Waterbury is presenting the excellent A Christmas Story: The Musical on Nov. 18 and Nov. 19. The musical is based on the classic Jean Shepherd story and subsequent film. The show itself was nominated for several Tony awards during its Broadway run. For tickets call 203-346-2000 or visit Palace Theaterg.
Five More Years: In a somewhat unprecedented move, James Bundy has been reappointed as Dean of Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theater. This,his fourth term, will begin July 1, 2017. It’s unprecedented because previously Yale has limited most Deans – including the Drama School to two terms (10 years) though some served an extra year while the search for a successor was on-going. During his tenure the Yale Rep has produced numerous world and American premieres two of which have been Pulitzer Prize finalists. Congratulations.
Helping the Area Economy: The International Festival of Arts & Ideas which ran June 10-25 generated an economic impact exceeding $15.4 million for the region’s economy. The study was done by Quinnipiac University. It is based on attendance and ticket sales and reported visitor behavior. Other figures: visitors reported spending an average of $140 on food, retail, lodging and transportation. The Festival employed 213 full and season staff. Local vendors, venues and rental companies were hired to help. In addition the 855 artists and speakers required 766 hotel nights in the greater New Haven area.
Election Drama: I don’t usually write about community theater productions though many are excellent. Just too many shows, but I will make an exception for Now or Later at Square One Theatre in Stratford. Why? The play, which I’m unfamiliar with, is written by Christopher Shinn a Connecticut native (An Opening in Time, Dying City) and it is very relevant. The play, which runs Nov. 3 to Nov. 20 is about a presidential election and what happens’ when controversial photos of the candidate’s college age son go viral, potentially sparking an international incident. For information visitSquare One; for tickets call 203-375-8778.