If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
Dreyfuss is Einstein in TheaterWorks’ “Relativity”
TheaterWorks has a genuine movie star for the kick-off of their 31st anniversary season. The actor is Richard Dreyfuss and he’s playing no less than Albert Einstein in “Relativity”, the interesting but somewhat routine new play by Mark St. Germain. Mr. Germain is one of our finest and most successful contemporary playwrights, the author of “Camping with Henry and Tom”, “Freud’s Last Session” and “Becoming Dr. Ruth” among many other plays.
“Relativity” is yet another work of historical fiction by the playwright who has made a career of exploring the lives of famous people at certain points in their history and constructing a “what if?” scenario around them. Set in 1949 during Einstein’s final years in Princeton, New Jersey, “Relativity” is a three-character, one-act (80 minutes/no intermission) drama that finds a reporter (with an ulterior motive) interviewing the great scientist. We soon discover she is the daughter Einstein and his wife gave up early in their marriage. Next to nothing is known about the child and her fate, but that hasn’t stopped St. Germain from creating a scenario that finds the daughter demanding answers from a man she never knew as a father. The play explores familiar themes of rejected, bitter children looking for answers and what defines a man’s greatness. Can a man like Einstein be both a lousy father and a great human being? Hey, even Hitler liked dogs they say.
In his best plays St. Germain had more facts to draw from and could speculate with more certainty about issues like Henry Ford’s racism (in “Camping with Henry and Tom”) or Freud’s distain of Catholicism (in “Freud’s Last Session”). “Relativity”, with its child/parent dynamic, seems more ordinary, like the topic of a Lifetime movie, and thus proves a bit of a disappointment. Having a major star like Dreyfuss in the lead role certainly helps, but he really isn’t given much to work with here. As his daughter, Christa Scott-Reed is competent but I found it hard to get past how physically tall she was towering over Dreyfuss throughout. In a stronger work, such an obstacle wouldn’t register, but with thin material one does start focusing on incidentals. As Einstein’s crusty housekeeper, Lori Wilner plays her stereotype with feeling and purpose.
Designer Brian Prather has created an appropriately cluttered, book-lined study setting for Einstein and professional contributions are also provided by Alejo Vietti (costumes) and Philip S. Rosenberg (lighting). “Relativity” is not without its interest (the star being the major one), but it must ultimately be deemed a lesser work from this prolific and accomplished playwright.
“Relativity” has been extended at TheaterWorks in Hartford through November 23. For further information call the theatre box office at: 860.527.7838 or visit: www.theaterworkshartford.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.