The playwright Mark St. Germain became intrigued after reading the following statements, “In 1902, Albert and Mileva Einstein had a baby daughter. After 1904, she was never seen or spoken of again.” That prompted the author to ask “Why?” What happened? What were the possible circumstances for this occurrence? His contemplation and reflections on this historic mystery became the basis for his intriguing, yet modest drama, Relativity, playing at Theaterworks through November 20th.
The main reason to purchase tickets for this 85 minute, three-character show is for the performance of Richard Dreyfus as Albert Einstein. Yes, having a big Hollywood star on the intimate Theaterworks stage is exciting, but Dreyfus demonstrates his acting prowess by totally subsuming himself in the role and delivering a multi-layered portrayal of the famed physicist.
The play begins with a reporter, Margaret Harding, tracking down Einstein near his Princeton, New Jersey home. She convinces him to sit for an interview at his house. Once there, her true motives are revealed as the two engage in a battle of words and emotional skirmishes.
The two protagonists are mismatched opponents, which lessens the dramatic impact of the show. In one of St. Germain’s previous works, Freud’s Last Session, a fictional encounter between C.S. Lewis and the famed psychologist, the two intellectuals debate weighty issues and topics. In Relativity, Harding and Einstein are unequal adversaries so even though their repartee revolves around meaningful affairs there is less for the audience to savor. The reasons for the comings and goings of the characters can also come across as contrived.
The cast, led by Dreyfus, is uniformly fine. You can see why the actor was attracted to the role of Albert Einstein since it provides a substantial and well-rounded character for him to portray. Dreyfus is at times cagey, shrewd and wily in his performance as Christa Scott-Reed’s mysterious journalist, Margaret Harding, confronts him. Maybe due to the nature of the role where, at first, she is unsure of how to proceed with her subterfuge, the actress comes off as aloof and hard to relate with. As the play progresses, Ms. Scott-Reed’s character becomes more sympathetic, making it easier for the audience to connect with her. Lori Wilner as Helen Dukas, Einstein’s housekeeper, secretary and confidante, bristles with indignation at another interloper into the Professor’s personal space. But, as the dynamics of the threesome changes, her rigid demeanor softens, giving us a more layered performance.
This is a workman type assignment for Director Rob Ruggiero. He keeps busy with guiding, primarily, the two main cast members about the performing space, more to vary the actor’s movements on stage. This keeps the play from getting too static where the focus would be just on the dialogue.
Relativity, worth the price of admission to see an up-close, outstanding performance by Richard Dreyfus.