July 7, 2009 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall.
Berkshire Theatre Festival’s production of The Einstein Project, by playwrights Paul D’Andrea and John Klein, directed by Eric Hill, is a soul-shattering play with many scenes of beauty and poignancy, dynamically presented by a talented and dedicated cast.
And in our present tense political world, with rogue nations playing with uranium, it is a frightening play, one even more timely than it was when I first saw it at the BTF’s Unicorn in 2000.
However, in the intervening years much has changed in the play as well as in the world in which we are living, and the current production gains and loses by additions to the script (which lengthens the original one-act play to two acts, adding about a half hour of new material.)
Intensity has been gained but lyricism has been lost, which was there in the Unicorn production, despite the grim material. Isadora Wolfe’s lovely “ensemble” of slow-moving, oriental-like dancers still weave the script together, but in a less-lyrical manner.
Lost also is the acknowledgment that in a play covering so much time, from the first decade of the 20th century and on through two world wars, audiences would benefit from program notes of key dates in both Einstein’s life and in that of his world, as well as information about the man himself in relation to his pacifism and to the unhealthy relationships he had with his family. These were included in the program notes of the earlier play, and I remember urging my readers to arrive early and have time to read them.
Audiences of the current production are helped along by announcements by the broadcast voice of a news announcer who clues us in to dates and who calls attention often to the quirky side of Einstein as a clown-like innocent gambles through his pacifistic life as a scientist. Unfortunately, I found them not as effective as program notes would be.
These caveats aside, be assured that the current production is a challenging and fascinating one, and one well worth seeing.
The two leading actors Tommy Schrider as Einstein and James Barry as his protégé, scientist Werner Heisenberg, who nine years later stride again into roles they played well years ago, have developed the characters with even greater depth and work well together as BTF audiences found out in last year’s The Caretaker.
As German scientists they are joined by fascinating cohorts played by Walter Hudson, David Chandler, Kyle Fabel, each with a distinct personality, but all as Jews, later in England must hear with dismay for science, that one of their number, a leader, Einstein, living and working in America as a confirmed pacifist, has sent the letter to Roosevelt that results in the dropping of the bomb.
Miranda Hope Shea, a local young actress, is deeply moving in her role as Edward, the son whom Einstein humiliates and taunts. He appears first in a scene in Switzerland in a boat ride in which his father taunts him with a mathematical challenge of the counting of his own fingers: and in small scenes with his father he weaves in and out of the action until he is finally reduced to a strait-jacket in a sanitarium. His role in the play illustrates the non-sympathetic side of the scientific genius and pacifist.
The setting, lights and sound are fine and the production itself moving, even if one at times is confused as to sequence.
Although this reviewer was more comfortable with the simpler production, the current one is rewarding, challenging and timely. And being theatrically challenging is something that the BTF does well.
- Berkshire Theatre Festival schedule 2009 season