Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
These and other facets of Albert Einstein are revealed in Willard Simms' one-man play Einstein: A Stage Portrait with Tom Schuch as the great physicist, completing an engagement at The Matchbox Theater. The play was first performed in the 1980s and has been mounted at theaters throughout the country with a number of actors taking on the role. Schuch has been touring in the play since 2001, including a production at the International Festival of Ideas in Bangalore, India. Matchbox's Producing Artistic Director Doug Stewart had the good judgement to invite Schuch to mount the play, as both actor and director, as the first production in Matchbox's new performance space.
Tom Schuch was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico, home of the atom bomb, which many have said came about due to Einstein's insistence that the U.S. overtake the Germans' efforts to develop nuclear weapons, so perhaps there is something of a kinship to the physicist in the actor's DNA. Though Schuch does not closely resemble Einstein, his wild hair (excellent wig and makeup design by Anne Davis), rumpled baggy suit, and stooped shoulders create a sense of Einstein's presence. Schuch also handles the requisite German accent well, including a pattern of uttering a phlegmy "Acch!" with a wave of his hand when completing a thought or anecdote, as if to dismiss its significance in the larger scheme of the world.
The play runs a compact 90 minutes, with an intermission about two-thirds of the way through. It is set in 1946 in the study of Einstein's home in Princeton, New Jersey. Einstein, 67 years old at that time, enters, turns on the radio for the uplift of his favorite musician Mozart, but has no patience for the commercials. In no time, he is telling us his story: childhood, school years (including the headmaster who told Albert's father that the boy would never succeed at anything), university, early career and breakthroughs. Using simple examples, he makes several attempts to explain this theories of specific relativity, general relativity that followed about 14 years later, and his pursuit of a unified field theory, which he never achieved (and to this day remains unproven).
Einstein is also very forthcoming about his personal life and convictions. He describes his two wives and marriages, frankly admitting his failure as a devoted husband to his first, as well as his insufficient attention to their two sons. He recounts his opposition to World War I, his disgust at the rise of the Nazis in Germany, and his resettlement in the United States, making Princeton his home for the remainder of his life. He is blunt about the stain of racism on American life. With total earnestness he expresses deep regret about urging President Roosevelt to develop a nuclear bomb. He would never have done so, had he known the Germans would be defeated before they could develop such weapons, but now they have been unleashed on the world. The details that are revealed go far toward taking making Einstein less of an icon, more of an accessible human beingcompassionate, industrious, brilliant, and flawed, especially given the intelligence and warmth Schuch imbues upon his character.
Every performance of Einstein: A Stage Portrait at The Matchbox is followed by a talk-back session with Mr. Schuch and a physicist from one of our local universities. At the performance I attended, this element added tremendously to my appreciation for the play, further clarification regarding the science itself, and for the impact Einstein's work had on the world in his day. In 1919, after his General Theory of Relativity had been confirmed, The Times, Great Britain's leading newspaper, printed a banner headline that read: "Revolution in Science - New Theory of the Universe - Newtonian Ideas Overthrown." It is hard to imagine the shock-waves that must have sent throughout the world, even among those who had little understanding of the science itself. And so much of his work continues to serve as a foundation for modern physics and astronomy.
A well-honed performance in a play that balances the intellectual and emotional sides of a truly great man is in itself welcome. At this time, with science itself under attack, notions of "alternative facts" and "fake news" undermining the credibility of established knowledge, it is good to be reminded of the difference a scientist can make, and the ability of a scientist to galvanize the world. Toward the end of the play, Einstein wonders about the kind of future that lies before humankind in 1947. One can only imagine what he would have thought of the future we face now, in 2017.
Just a word about The Matchbox Theater: Originally based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Doug Stewart recently moved his company to Minneapolis. After a brief stay in what proved to be temporary basement quarters, The Matchbox has settled into a comfortable 99-seat space, where their next production, The Weir, plays October 5 - 28. With the scores of quality theaters in the Twin Cities, do we really need another one? Always! Welcome, Matchbox.
Einstein: A Stage Portrait continues through October 1, 2017, at The Matchbox Theater, 5401 ½ Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets $20.00 in advance, $25.00 at the door; $10.00 for students and seniors (age 65+) in advance. For tickets call 612-223-8664 or visit www.thematchboxtheater.com
Writer: Willard Simms; Director and Production Design: Thomas Schuch; Wig and Makeup Design: Anne Davis; Sound Design and Radio Voice: Rick Huff; Stage Manager: Ava Spooner; Producer: Douglas Stewart.
Cast: Thomas Schuch (Albert Einstein)