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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
The Einstein Project

Germany is my home. Where is your home, Albert? -- Werner Heisenberg
In my mind -- Albert Einstein
It's not enough of a trend to paraphrase Shakespeare and declare that all the stage is a laboratory and all the players scientists and mathematicians. Still, as the list of links at the bottom of this review indicate, there's a definite ripple of interest in plays with science and technology backgrounds. And, now, at the Berkshire Theatre Festival's Unicorn stage, Paul D'Andrea's & Jon Klein's The Einstein Project proves to be exactly what fits its artistic mission best -- giving still unknown young actors a chance to cut their teeth on a provocative script, innovatively staged. In this case, the co-authoring and co-directing credits also provide a fine illustration of theatrical collaboration.

The production does of course have one illustrious name, the man whose public and private image the playwrights have dramatized. Tommy Shrider's Albert Einstein is not the beloved twentieth century genius who made everybody familiar with the term "theory of relativity"" even if they didn't grasp the theory's meaning. The genial public figure whose quotable wit and wisdom was snapped up by the media is seen mostly in the Pathé newsreels interlaced throughout the play. The Einstein we meet via Shrider is the one behind those newsreels -- an intense, charismatic but not very loving or lovable man. His relationship with his overly sensitive son (Amanda Byron) most tellingly illustrates the contradictions and flaws in his personality. He has an intense relationship with the boy, yet overchallenges him cruelly and ends up putting his public concerns before the boy's needs. (He also abandoned his first wife and was repeatedly unfaithful to wife #2). His friendships were equally problematic.

The play's construction is nonlinear, with many short scenes cross-cutting between different periods in time. It begins with the explosion of the atomic bomb, which Einstein urged President Roosevelt to build; flashes back to his stint as a clerk in the patent office in Switzerland and his World War I pacifist arguments with Fritz Haber (Craig Baldwin), the inventor of mustard gas; and forward again to the World War II era.

While Einstein is the central figure, D'Andrea and Klein try to take us inside the minds of Germany's other leading physicists who were who were once Einstein's colleagues and friends. The most intriguing of the other scientists is Werner Heisenberg (James Barry), particularly in view of Michael Frayn's Copenhagen which uses Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty as a central metaphor for its imagined replay of the mysterious meeting that led a permanent rift between Heisenberg and the Danish physicist Niels Bohr. Frayn's play was neutral about Heisenberg's claim that he remained in Germany to make sure the Nazi regime would not develop an atomic bomb. D'Andrea and Klein seem to support Heisenberg. Whatever the case may be, The Einstein Project, which was written fifteen years ago, is distinctly different in content and style from the much acclaimed Copenhagen. The chief common denominator between the two plays is that both are stimulating, intelligent theater and that you don't have to understand any complex scientific theories to enjoy.

Like the Unicorn's last production, Coyote On a Fence, the current offering has had some previous productions. What's new and exciting about this one is the dynamic staging by Eric Hill and Oliver Butler which marries drama with performance art. The subtleties of the images simply take your breath away, from the astonishing opening in which the Hiroshima bombing becomes a stark modern dance, to Einstein and son on a sailing voyage simply and effective evoked with fluttering white cloth, to the masked audience at one of Einstein's lecture. The intermittent newsreels nicely anchor the public and private Einstein story.

As with any play cast with young and unknown actors, the performances vary from outstanding to adequate. Tommy Schrider and Amanda Byron prove themselves up to the challenging major roles of Albert and Edmund Einstein. Greg Keller stands out among Einstein's Uranium Club colleagues, as the aristocratic Max Van Laue, so does Jennifer Elder-Chace as Clara Immerwahr, Fritz Haber's tragic lover.

The Einstein Project marks a triumphant finale in an interesting and worthwhile Unicorn season. The price of the tickets, also makes this one of the best theater buys in the Berkshires -- recommended for kids (13 and up) as well as adults.

Einstein: A Stage Portrait/Simms, Willard
Copenhagen Related Seminar Feature

Other recently reviewed plays in which math and science was importantly featured:
An Experiment With An Air Pump
Moving Bodies
The Five Hysterical Girls Theorem
Tesla's Letters
The Lone Runner

By Paul D'Andrea & Jon Klein
Co-directed by Oliver Butler & Eric Hill
Cast (in order of appearance): Tommy Shrider, Amanda Byron, Daniel Winerman, Craig Baldwin, Joshua Tussin, James Barry, Jennifer Elder-Chace, Greg Keller, James Waterman, Tara Franklin; Ensemble: Sarah Autumn Feeley, Tara Franklin, Barb Lanciers, Kristina Short
Choreography: Isadora Wolfe
Set Design: Steven K. Mitchell
Lighting Design: Melissa McLearen
Costume Design: Moira Shaughnessy
Sound Design: Jason A. Tratta
Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, MA, (413) 298-3868
Running Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes without intermission
8/03//2000-8/26/2000; opening 8/04/2000
For season's schedule go here

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 8/04 performance

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