nytheatre.com review by Wesley Frugé
August 5, 2013
A bio-play has two duties to the audience: 1) to be educational and historically accurate, and 2) to be entertaining and emotionally connecting. Einstein, the world premiere play by Jay Prasad, includes the science, history and facts, but has no character development leaving us with a fact-filled evening that feels like a historical lecture.
Focusing on the formulas that Einstein invented (and at times quoting them word for word), Prasad goes through the motions of recreating Einstein’s life, but focuses on all the wrong details to leave us with information that would be better suited to Wikipedia. Beginning in the early 1900’s and stretching to Einstein’s death in 1955, we spend 2 hours and 45 minutes watching this amazing man's journey through time. From inventing the famous E=mc2, to being rejected by his peers, being persecuted in Nazi Germany, moving to America, contributing to the creation of the Atom Bomb, everything is here. What we don’t get to see however, is what made Einstein a human, what made him tick, what tormented him. We see him invent, but we don’t see why. The lack of passion in the script translates to the performances - the actors plod through the material with little joy. The direction by Randolph Curtis Rand is un-inspired and choppy, the tone shifts from vaudeville, to noir drama, to traditional with no apparent reason. There is no emotional anchor in this play, so the audience is left adrift with nothing to cling to except the complicated physics concepts Einstein is famous for.
Another major issue is that the characters surrounding Einstein in the play have very little dimension. Especially the female characters who are relegated to the sidelines to dote over their men. There isn’t a single scene that gives a female character something to do that does not revolve around her husband. While one could simply say that this is how it was in those times, Einstein’s first wife was also a mathematician – a fact the play shares with the audience but never fully investigates. We don’t understand why their marriage didn’t work and never get to see what happened to her or how much of Einstein’s original success should be attributed to her. It is the playwright’s duty to find the emotional core of the play, and to allow imagination and fact to come together in exciting ways. This particular aspect of the story could definitely have been more fleshed out.
I can only guess that this production is under-rehearsed, and suffering under the strain of a too-long book, as the actors were all employing separate styles, and no one seemed to co-exist in the same world. A lot of this can be attributed to the casting which completely ignored age (we are shown a romance between a 20-something and a 50-something, but the 20-something is supposed to be 4 years older), but dialects were also completely dis-regarded (a huge problem as the play moved from country to country with no change in speech at all). Certainly Richard Kent Green as Einstein has the majority of the material, but his performance suffered from so many dropped lines that it was hard to concentrate on what he was saying. The costumes were nice and period appropriate, but more changes seem necessary to show the passage of time (a makeup artist would have been very helpful as well).
The question I had walking away from this production is “Why?” Why did I just view this play about Einstein’s life, and why is it a necessary story to tell to today’s audience? The focus was not on who he was as a man, rather on what he did. So in that sense, it’s not a terribly enlightening evening. What did Einstein want to accomplish in his life, and how did he fail? Very little time is spent getting to the heart of this question, and the play suffers. Choosing one angle and telling that story would have helped: we see that Einstein is a pacifist, yet he invented the Atom Bomb – a story about that is interesting for the stage. What is presented though is too broad in stroke, and too all-encompassing in its history to make a strong connection with the audience. Better to avoid this play and stick with a History Channel presentation on Einstein’s life.