Dance in Review

The storyline in Relativity is a supposed to be a mystery. The great physicist and mathematical theoretician Albert Einstein fathered a daughter, Liserl, out of wedlock in Switzerland with Mileva Marić– but all mentions of her disappear after the age of two.


What happened to her? Several theories have been put forward – that she died of scarlet fever, that she was put up for adoption - but the historical track was largely obliterated with the destruction of many records during World War II. Though Einstein later married Marić, his daughter disappears from the historical record after 1904.


Mark St. Germaine’s Relativity poses one possibility on her whereabouts , and Einstein is confronted with it many years later, by a mysterious visitor to his quarters in Princeton. Margaret Harding (Katherine Keberlein), a journalist who has come to profile him for the Jewish Daily News – and to challenge him on his neglect of his daughter.


Suffice it to say we witness a fair amount of unresolved anger in the encounter, during which Einstein also learns he has a grandchild – also a genius - who is seeking his support in entering a top university. This colorful and intriguing tale is enticement enough to see Relativity. But an added bonus is the fact that the lead is played by the oldest working union actor in the U.S. – the indomitable Mike Nussbaum. Known for his skillful and intelligent delivery including some of David Mamet’s most challenging dramas, Nussbaum at 93 makes a striking appearance. That he can do it at all may be surprising, but Nussbaum delivers a textured and nuanced characterization of the great physicist. He is bring his all to the role, though he doesn’t project at the same intensity as in days of yore – or maybe it’s my hearing going.


The script is okay, with its once over lightly descriptions of Einstein’s unprecedented theorems, and the family angst grows tiresome pretty quickly. There is also a lot of exposition in which the reporter recounts famous quotes and anecdotes from Einstein, who fills in with one liners that elicit some laughs.


Ann Whitney plays a crotchety housekeeper and secretary, the real-life Helen Dukas, and her chemistry with Nussbaum is delightful. Their scenes provide insight into the suffering of an aging genius who is unlikely to discover new universal theories. Nussbaum brings an unusual gift to this aspect of the role, and a hunt for a piece of chalk to write a formula on a blackboard captures the essence of the matter, opening a window into the unsettling existential void.


As always Northlight delivers high production values (Jack Magaw on scenic design; JR Lederle on lighting; Stephen Mazurek fir Projection Design) and director BJ Jones does an excellent job orchestrating the production. Relativity runs through June 25 at Northlight Theatre in Skokie.

Published in Theatre in Review

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is a charming “what if” story that has twentieth century groundbreakers Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso unexpectedly meeting at a bar in 1904. Set in Paris, France at the Lapin Agile, both men are on the brink of remarkable ideas – Picasso just a few years away from his famous Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Einstein months away from publishing his revolutionary theory of relativity. Both men are also very confident in their genius and competitive in gathering attention for their intellect.  

Written by Steve Martin in 1993, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” debuted at Chicago’s Steppenwolf on October 13th of the same year following a brief workshop of the play in Melbourne, Australia. There are plenty of laughs as Einstein tries to impress the bar patrons with his wayward predictions of the future such as the automobile being a fad, or France becoming the superpower of the twentieth century while Germany becomes the voice for peace.

At one point, Picasso, quite the ladies’ man and not one to be pushed out of the spotlight - especially in front of one of his lovers, challenges Einstein to a drawing duel, creating a scene that is preposterously funny and really shows the boyish competitiveness in each of them. It takes many an intriguing debate or perceptive musing before the two fianlly realize that their contributions to the human race are equally valuable. Interestingly enough, Martin makes a weighty statement on how the contributions of these great difference makers of the twentieth century are remembered by most as Einstein and Picasso meet Elvis towards the end. As the three look to the heavens and see their names in the stars, Elvis points out, “There’s my name. Above both of yours and three times as big.”

The play is filled with interesting characters. Outside of Einstein and Picasso, we have a bartender, Freddy, who now and then surprises all with a profound statement of his own. We also have an idealistic barmaid, Germaine, Picasso’s art dealer, an inventor and a few regular patrons at the bar to which Einstein is often found attempting to break down his theories in a much simpler language in order for them to understand.

Superbly directed by Josh Anderson, the Organic Theatre Company’s current production of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” at Greenhouse Theatre is an insightful piece that is both imaginative and funny. Joel Moses is wonderful as Einstein and Anthony Perrella Jr. is equal to the task as Picasso, together providing just the right touch of parodic humor to each character while keeping an appropriate tribute in place.      

The highly amusing “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is being performed at Greenhouse Theatre through June 26th.  For tickets and/or more show information visit www.greenhousetheatre.org.   

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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