By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
In times of crisis, we often look to the great thinkers of the time for guidance. We look to Dr. Fauci and other leaders of the scientific community to address the spread of COVID-19, and just as we do that, those in times past did the same.
“Einstein: A Stage Portrait” kicked off Prime Stage Theatre’s “Prime Online” series, which will feature three small or one-person shows disseminated virtually. “Einstein” will be followed by “One Christmas Carol” in December, and “Sojourner Truth” in February.
The play is set in Einstein’s study, sometime between the end of World War II and his death in 1955. We initially see him hard at work, his easel coated in mathematical figures and equations, and his desk littered with letters. From that desk, he grabs one letter in particular, from a nine year old girl in Mississippi. She asks why Einstein helped create the atomic bomb, a question he struggles to comprehend. Even though he had no part in making such a terrible weapon, he is associated with it nonetheless, and tainted by such association. All Einstein desires is to clear up the misconceptions about him and his work.
In doing so, Einstein provides many insights into his personal life. He balks at admirers who refer to him as “relativity himself” (“Was Louis Pasteur ever called ‘rabies himself?’” Einstein wonders at one point). He expresses sadness at how his work separates him from his loved ones, particularly his wife Elsa. Most movingly, he vents anger and sorrow at Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party for what he did to his beloved home country.
Einstein is also shown, despite his obvious predilection for science, to be just as passionate about the arts. The play opens with Einstein’s office radio playing the idyllic and familiar strains of Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” and the scientist reveals he also dabbles in playing music on his own violin.
“Did you know I give recitals? For actual audiences, who pay,” he jokes. “As long as men can believe in music, I will believe in the future of mankind.”
Directed by Wayne Brinda, Matt Henderson stars as the titular scientist, bringing to life the script by Willard Simms. Henderson’s impersonation of Einstein was clearly well-researched and fully internalized. Not only did he bear an uncanny resemblance to the man himself, he very successfully emulated Einstein’s manner of speech, complete with German accent. He handled the arduous task of carrying a one-man show as if it were just another day, which is admirable.
In addition to Henderson’s powerhouse performance, also laudable is the use of technology to broadcast the work. A live performance of the show was filmed and edited together, complete with camera work to provide a more immersive experience for the audience, while the jovial sounds of a live audience are maintained. All this ultimately to spread the joy of theater and storytelling as we all prepare for the slumbering embrace of winter.
“Einstein: A Stage Portrait” will be available on Vimeo until November 20. Tickets and more information are available at primestage.com