|Dennis Bateman and Candace Vance in Relativity (Erik Stuhaug)|
Through October 4, 2017
Many times, when we find out negative information about famous folk, that information might end up impacting our feelings about the contributions of those famous folk to our world. Often the negative information is about actions these famous folks took in their lives that changes our perceptions of them from heroic to “terrible human,” in the extreme.
We’ve seen that very recently with Bill Cosby, changing some from loving his shows and comedy albums to not being able to listen to them at all. In the past, media didn’t reveal things like infidelities about people like John Kennedy, Jr. or Martin Luther King, Jr. – and we know now that adultery was part of how they negotiated the world. But does that matter to people?
Mark St. Germain, who seems to love to write plays about real people and real events, has written a play about Albert Einstein. He of the Theory of Relativity fame and the fuzzy white hair and German accent. A persistent interviewer shows up at Einstein’s home and refuses to be kicked out. She has a plausible story and even a contract that says anything she asks that he does not want published will be cut out of her story.
The play has two real people in it: Albert Einstein (Dennis Bateman) and his household manager Miss Dukas (Pam Nolte). The reporter (Candace Vance) is fictionalized, but she comes to ask many penetrating questions of him. As her questions get more pointed, we understand that she has found evidence that Einstein has a girl child that he seems to have possibly abandoned.
Indeed, we now know that Einstein did have a daughter, Lieserl, who was born during a difficult time in Einstein’s first marriage and who contracted scarlet fever and then disappeared from any further documentation. Speculation expounded in a book named “Einstein’s Daughter” included that she had died or been adopted out to another family, or even entered a convent.
The reporter tries to get Einstein’s side of the story, but she also seems to carry a judgment about his apparent abandonment of his child. She believes that it undercuts his achievements as a scientist because those achievements were perhaps done at the expense of his being a good father.
Taproot’s rolling National New Play Network production is, as usual, a beautifully rendered technical affair, with stellar costumes, set and lights (Sarah Burch Gordon, Mark Lund, Brian Engel). Bateman does a great job as Einstein, avoiding imitation, but immersing himself into the real life Einstein. Nolte adds a bit of comedy, but also a stalwart protection of his from a very loyal supporter.
Vance has a difficult job. She has to be a bit judgmental and officious, but she does, in the script, elicit areas of information that Einstein would rather not address. Her character reveals her own issues that propel the story forward, giving justification to her attitude. Still, it’s not the easiest character to like.
Personally, I think that when we learn that people have done things that are criminal in nature, it’s hard to keep previously laudatory feelings for them. Committing adultery, especially since it’s so apparently ubitquitious, is not nice, but it’s a more private issue between spouses and their marriage difficulties. Does it make me not want to believe in Einstein’s theory because he was a bad father? Well, it’s much harder to argue with science than with a tv personality’s body of work… So, no.
But your conversation on the way home might be entirely different from my perspective. This is a fast-moving one act play that is worth delving into that mystery.