The Einstein Project by Paul DíAndrea and Jon Klein. Directed by Eric Hill
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"You can also destroy what you donít understand."
Good old Albert Einstein. The guy with the crazy hair who said quirky things, including "E=MC-squared." He also said, and this is my favorite because itís true, "I do not know how the third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourthórocks!" I love that. Good old quirky Al Einstein.
Well, the Berkshire Theatre Festival is doing its best to convince me that I may have had Einstein all wrong all these years. Their new play, "The Einstein Project," tells the gregarious tale of Einstein as one of Germanyís leading physicists and theoretical mathematicians who rebels against the changing political climate and emigrates to the United States, leaving his family behind apparently, to become one of the worldís leading quirky celebrities, celebrated constantly by Pathe Newsreels and screwy, oddball behavior.
This Albert E runs around the country ignoring the principals he set into play back home in Deutschland. His old pals mourn his loss but move ahead utilizing his scientific data and his theories to develop the atomic bomb so that Hitler and his gang can move across the sea and reclaim quirky Al as one of their own.
We meet Al in a boat with his son, Eduard (spellers take note) who is being grilled on prime numbers and sailing through storms. A lot later Eddie is put into an asylum and roundly ignored by his father and we learn, somehow that he is dead. (Actually, diagnosed with severe schizophrenia, Eduard Einstein lived to the ripe old age of 55, dying in 1965, some ten years after his father.)
What we ultimately learn about Einstein in this play is that he lived an intellectual life, somewhat devoid of emotions, or personal involvements, without caring much about humanity but living "...in his head" rather than in his heart. It is something of a shock to learn that this man who defied two governments, school officials over his education, married more than once and reportedly loved more times than that, fathered three children and sacrificed one career for another in order to preserve his moral sensibilities lived "in his head" as an intellectual rather than as a man.
Of course, I never met him, so I donít know for sure. Knowing what I know, though, makes me question the basic principles of this play.
One thing that intrigued me though was the news that Einstein solved many of the problems being worked on by "The Manhattan Project" without ever knowing he was involved in the creation of the American atomic bomb and that he was denied any and all access to his old cohorts who were brought to the United States from Europe by the American Armed Forces. That intrigued me.
Eric Hillís production of this new play, developed following a workshop production at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in 2000, follows many of the principles of Tadashi Suzuki using movement and control to highlight emotion and content. While interesting to watch it normally leaves me cold. In this production, however, it adds a certain sense of humanity and context to dry, scientific dialogue that often sounds like a group of textbooks arguing with the covers only partially opened. Hillís use of an ensemble to create the worlds in which Einstein and his friends congregate is very effective and what the play lacks in emotional content is often o ver-ridden by the beauty or grotesqueness of the greater humanity dealing with its day-to-day struggle to survive. Hillís other great decision for this production is no foreign accents. Ever. Perfection!
Tommy Schrider is a wonderful Einstein. He has a look that seems right and his earnest delivery, his utter belief in a deep sense of humanity makes his Einstein a multi-level character. Even when confronted with his close friendsí characterization of his separation from the real world of people, Schriderís Albert strives to make right their seeming misunderstanding of him. In the end, Schriderís body tells us, he is aware of just how right they all were.
James Barry is his good friend and greatest antagonist, Werner Heisenberg. Barry does young and Barry does world-weary and Barry does disgusted with the human race equally well. His scenes with Schrider are brittle and fascinating. He adds electricity to the work, a substance it greatly needs some of the time.
Brandy Caldwell and David Chandler make a superb couple of fellow scientists - Clara Immerwahr and Fritz Haber, whose relationship provides a glimpse of the possibilities our character of Einstein is immune to for the most part. Walter Hudson is remarkable as physicist Otto Hahn, a character who would have been played by Felix Bressart in the movies five decades ago. C.J. Wilson is mesmerizing as Walter Gerlach.
As the Eighth Man, a multi-character role there is Jesse Hinson who carries off his short but important parts with a sense of illumination. Eduard (Edward in the program) is very well played by Miranda Hope Shea; watching a play about the theory of relativity definer (it reconciles mechanics with electromagnetism) I had to wonder how it would be if a boy played Shirley Temple - would there be a ruckus and a row? Or would relativity rear its confusing head?
Joseph Varga has provided a wide-open factory/airplane hangar set with a door that provides a visual and auditory "grand guignol" effect far too frequently. Charles Schoonmaker has provided a single costume for each major player and an array of special effects looks for the ensemble. Matthew E. Adelson provides what lights there are in this moody, often very dark, production including some glorious special effects with photographs attached to wood blocks. J Hagenbuckleís music and sounds overwhelm at times but are oddly right for this play and production.
There is nothing so strange as a play that gets you going, then leaves you flat. Iím not certain what I was supposed to learn, to come away with, here in this new play. There is something about morals that permeates the work. There is something about God, too, but itís never really made clear. Then again, at the last minute, the authors decide to preach a short sermon, a gesture reminiscent of early Kander and Ebb musicals - does anyone but me remember "You Are You (you are not Myrna Loy, Myrna Loy is Myrna Loy, You are You!) from "Flora, the Red Menace?" I think that ending needs to be cut here and something substantial by way of a definitive statement by quirky Al Einstein be substituted. How about that line I quoted in paragraph one? That says something and it has a moral that doesnít sound like preaching.
Einstein always did say something. And he didnít like socks.
Tommy Schrider and James Barry; photo: Jaime Davidson
Brandy Caldwell and Walter Hudson; photo: Jamie Davidson
Miranda Hope Shea and Tommy Schrider; photo: Jamie Davidson
The Einstein Project plays on the mainstage of the Berkshire Theatre Festival through July 18. The theater is located on Route 7 just north of Main Street, Stockbridge, Massachusetts. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-298-5576.