Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of The Thanksgiving Play
The drama follows the friendship that develops between Albert Einstein (Bloch) and Marian Anderson (Curry), two high achievers who might seem to have little in common. In 1937, Anderson gave a concert in Einstein's adopted home city of Princeton, New Jersey, and the physicista music lover and himself a violinistmet her backstage after the performance. After she was barred from checking into her hotel because of a "whites-only" policy (yes, in the North), Einstein invited her to stay overnight in his home, where the play begins.
Both figures had lived basically as expatriates: Einstein did not flee Nazi Germany but decided not to return during a scheduled visit to Princeton in 1933; Anderson, while born and trained in the United States, earned her fame as a singer in Europe. The African-American woman and the German Jew find common ground in their concern for human rights.
The second half of the play, which runs 100 minutes without intermission, brings the two friends together again. By that time, it's 1939 and African-American activist Mary Church Terrell (Franchelle Stewart Dorn) is trying to get Anderson a place to perform in Washington. DAR Constitution Hall could work, she says, but the Daughters of the American Revolution will not allow a person of color to perform in its building. (For those who don't know the history, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR over this incident and enabled Anderson to give an Easter Sunday concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.)
Director Sheldon Epps ably guides the skilled cast as an ensemble, but Curry is the heart of the drama with her innate dignity and radiant singing. At first Bloch emphasizes the surface image of Einstein as a disheveled scientist not always in touch with everyday concerns, but then he reveals how his principles have driven the course of his life. Meghan Raham's breathtaking scenic design depicts Einstein's house as, literally, built on stacks of books.
This is a play of ideas, and at times Brevoort's script gets bogged down in the language of philosophical discussion. Anderson respects Terrell but does not want her talent to be used for political reasons, no matter how moral. Einstein's boss at Princeton, Abraham Flexner (Michael Russotto), is also Jewish and wants the genius not to stir up trouble by emphasizing a parallel between the Nazis and Anderson's racist treatment.
My Lord, What a Night runs through October 24, 2021, at Ford's Theatre, 511 Tenth St., NW, Washington DC. Also, an on-demand, streaming version of the play will be available for sale through November 4, 2021. For tickets and information, please call 202-347-4833 or visit fords.org.
By Deborah Brevoort
Albert Einstein: Christopher Bloch