Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Fred's review of The Piano Lesson
In 1902, Albert Einstein and his future wife Mileva had a baby daughter. The girl was never again seen. Some years later, a probing journalist finds Einstein at Princeton University and meets him at his nearby home. The infant's name was Lieserl. St. Germain writes, in the TheaterWorks program, "The existence of Lieserl Einstein only became public after Einstein's death with the discovery of letters between him and his first wife, Mileva. Their daughter was born, their daughter contracted scarlet fever, and her parents worried about what would become of her." People began to from opinions and speculations regarding her potential survival.
Intrigued, the playwright composes a play which is (aside from a short period of time during the middle of its 85-minute running time) completely engrossing. The reporter, Margaret Harding, is played by Christa Scott-Reed. Early on, Einstein asks Harding if she is interviewing or interrogating him. St. Germain's third character is Helen Dukas (Lori Wilner), a woman who is Einstein's housekeeping assistant. She is a savvy individual who knows him well, keeps him functioning, and is, perhaps, something more to him.
Brian Prather's interior design of the German-born physicist's home finds the place filled with books, lamps, chairs, and a rear stage window looking outward. There's a precocious parrot, heard but not seen since its cage is shielded by fabric.
Dreyfuss presents a man with white mustache and flyaway hair, a short and round figure who ambles about. He is not severe but rather has eyes that seem to sparkle. Speaking with a steady accent and never hurried, the famed performer (films like Jaws, American Graffiti, Mr. Holland's Opus, and The Goodbye Girl) personifies poise on stage. He evidently first hit the boards, so to speak, as a boy at a Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles. Now, he is at the summit of his craft.
Scott-Reed, splendid as Harding, pushes hard toward the thematic crux of St. Germain's play, which Einstein expresses near the end of the evening when he says, "I have spent my life trying to rid myself of the personal." What happens when a great artist or scientist or political figure or anyone professionally triumphant prioritizes career above all else?
It would be a disservice to divulge anything more in the area of exposition. A large audience at TheaterWorks collectively gasped during a specific moment of Relativity and that must remain a mystery until one watches the show.
Relativity is undeniably engaging. It hooks the viewer immediately through Dreyfuss's expressive turn. The actor speaks through his gestures. It's important to watch his hands and his face. The play then loses a bit of steam but accelerates, through careful plotting and performance, as it draws to a close. Ruggiero's direction is precise and, at the end, there is a symmetrical close.
Mark St. Germain has written a number of impressive plays including Freud's Last Session, Becoming Dr. Ruth, Best of Enemies, and my own favorite, Dancing Lessons. Many times, the author locates a moment, conflict, or issue from the past and then imaginatively scripts forward.
Relativity continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford, Connecticut, through November 23rd, 2016. For tickets, call (860) 527-7838 or visit theaterworkshartford.org.