nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
April 18, 2008
In The Brain, Einstein's brain is stolen by his cremator and preserved in a jar for years after his death. When the authorities discover this, they confiscate the brain and slice it into many thin slices like so much prosciutto and give it to scientists for analysis. I'm not sure exactly what they think they're going to find locked away in there but the creators of The Brain have managed to find some interesting bits from Einstein's life that are still valuable lessons to us today.
The story is made up of bits and pieces of Einstein's life and short explanations of some of his theories. I didn't discover anything new about Einstein here; the most impressive portion of the show is the puppet work and the amazingly intricate details in many of the designs.
There are several white sheets pulled taut along the back wall that are used for projections. A stack of suitcases sits at center stage and there are two large clocks to the left and right. All of these open up to reveal some very beautifully designed puppet scenery. The scenery is all very tiny, so they use cameras to project the scenes on the sheets behind the action. This is where you really see the details they put into the scenery such as wallpaper and tiny framed photos of Einstein's family.
The puppets are mostly flat cutouts of Einstein and other people that are pushed slowly across a scrolling scene while either music or a voiceover plays. The men in lab coats never speak, they only animate the puppets and set the camera and do whatever else is needed. There is one marionette and an almost life-size puppet of Einstein with his iconic messy white hairdo. The animation of all the puppets is done almost ritualistically with very slow and calculated movements making it evident that the puppeteers are professionals who take their work very seriously. The puppets in this show don't necessarily come to life, they work more as visual aides in the telling of the story.
Director Alissa Mello certainly has a beautiful vision that plays out in a very well choreographed performance. The reading of Einstein's letters had the most impact me—especially those relating his anti-war sentiments, which reverberate in our hearts today as we continue to wage an unpopular war. I really felt like I was getting into his mind in those moments. However, the pace is a bit slow. Mello includes a few segments for comic relief and to break up the monotony of the piece, but there are too few to break the feeling that time is creeping along.
Michael Kelly does a fantastic job with the puppet and scene designs. The proof is in the details and Kelly leaves few overlooked. Still, without the camera I would have missed most of them.
Along with the live action video, there are also a few short films by filmmaker Blaine Hicklin that look great. I especially liked the apocalyptic ending segment. Joemca provides an excellent original soundtrack, which is indispensable in a show without any dialogue. Hicklin and Joemca sit at either side of the stage and run their respective work while Kelly, Michael Parducci, Brain Snapp, and Jessica Luck work with the puppets. The puppeteers are remarkably focused and always give the sense that their puppets are the most important things in the world to them.
I enjoyed this show for its extraordinary dedication to the art of puppetry. Einstein's message of solving our differences without violence is timeless and this show reminds us that since we have the power to, quite literally, destroy ourselves with nukes, his message should never be forgotten.