Einstein's Secret Letters (a love story)
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
September 27, 2005
The night I saw Einstein's Secret Letters (a love story) was the 100th anniversary, to the very day, of Einstein’s proclamation of his famous theory E=MC². The playwright, J.B. Edwards, gave a curtain speech telling us this and a few other points of interest, and he made note that he was so excited about the anniversary that he even wrote "E=MC²" on the blackboard at center stage. When the show began one of the first things that I noticed was that the play is set in 1955 (the year Einstein died); so I had to question why Einstein would have this equation written in large letters and circled on his blackboard 50 years later? This minor problem was only the first clue that Einstein’s Secret Letters, however well-intended, is simply not ready for public presentation.
The show's description in the press materials suggests that it's about Einstein’s relationship with Johanna Fantova, a woman to whom he wrote many passionate letters, but it is not. I thought I was going to see the iconoclastic perception of this brilliant and influential man of science broken down and in its place I’d see a vulnerable man of passion, but I did not.
What I did see was a show about a man on the downside of his career, feeling his age and somewhat out of touch. He has a personal secretary named Helen who handles all his business appointments and takes care of him in general. She does not like his relationship with Johanna because she feels it distracts him from more important things such as great scientific discovery. Johanna has grown to know the passionate man that Einstein is and feels that her presence in his life is just as important to him as any new revelation in science. There is also a long scene between Einstein and Paul Robeson in which they discuss the various civil rights issues that were beginning to boil over at the time.
I think the script might actually achieve what it claims to be, “a love story,” if Einstein were a character that we never see but instead learn about him through the eyes of others. This simple convention might help the playwright reach his goal of exposing the sensitive heart behind the great analytical mind. Instead, what we have here is almost entirely exposition. There is no character development and no plot movement. I left after the first hour. I was told that there was another 25 minutes remaining, but I could not see anything significant happening in the amount of time that would have changed my mind about this unfortunate production.
The direction by G. Beaudin is extremely problematic. The actors literally look lost on stage; at several points I saw them back-peddling or side-stepping to try and find their places. I began to feel as uncomfortable as they looked.
In the curtain speech we were told that there have been “major revisions” to the script and that we would see some actors holding their scripts. In fact, only one actor held his script, Marvin Starkman, who portrays Einstein. He carried it the entire time. Robert Kya-Hill plays Paul Robeson. He has a beautiful, booming voice but his inflections and pauses seemed truly bizarre. Memory Contento plays Johanna with decent conviction. But Waltrudis Buck as Helen is the only actor on the stage who really turns in a credible performance.
I honestly wish that I had more constructive things to say. It is possible that, with a lot of work from the developing company, thedramaloft, Einstein’s Secret Letters could be a show worth seeing. As it is now, it's really just not ready for a paying audience.