He’s More Than Just Bagels | “Einstein” @ HFF16

Einstein (Hollywood Fringe)userpic=fringeJust imagine how Albert Einstein might feel if he saw how his image and name was licensed today (yes, that is a link to his licensing site). Do you think he would be happy? In fact, for many people, do they even know all that much about the man? Let’s make it specific: what you you know about Albert Einstein other than e=mc², he had frizzy hair, he was a physicist, and he makes great bagels?

Yesterday, we saw a one-man play as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) that attempted to address that question. Einstein attempts to delve into that question by exploring a critical period in Einstein’s life: the time while was in Germany waiting confirmation of his general theory of relativity. While waiting, he was being besieged by other physicists claiming his theory of curved space was wrong, and that their theories were correct. He was also dealing with the dissolution of his marriage, and the impact of that on his relationships with his children.

In Einstein, 5th grade theater and solo artist Jack Fry (FB) becomes the young Einstein during this period, as well as portraying other characters in Einstein’s life: various professional colleagues such as David Hilbert and William Wallace Campbell, or Einstein’s son Hans. He also interacts over telephone with Mileva,  his soon to be ex-wife (voice provided by Alexandra Kovacs (FB) – note that her personal website (which comes up on Google) is hacked, and is a lesson to renew your domains). His performance represents, according to the program three years of Fry’s personal research, based on 15,000 documents from Einstein’s files, letters, and records released by Hebrew University in 2007.  Fry took this research and developed it into a script, with additional physics advice from Ron Mallet (FB).

I found Fry’s portrayal of Einstein’s quite engaging and eccentric.  It wasn’t canned; he had the base material he needed to get out to advance the story, but he also had wonderful moments of interactions with the audience throughout the piece. He popped between the younger and the older Einstein with ease, and was able to assume sufficiently distinct personas for the few other characters he portrayed.

His descriptions of relativity were sufficiently simplified to make concepts such as curved space acceptable to the layperson. In particular, he had some illuminatory graphics (by Walker Schupp and Anthony Denha) that demonstrated well how curved space works to create the illusion of gravity, and how the curvature would be significant in proving Einstein’s theories. Einstein also commented on a number of modern day inventions, and how they all derived from his basic theories.

To what extent this excellent performance was Fry, and to what extent it was the direction of Tom Blomquist (FB) (assisted by Peggy O’Neil (FB)) is difficult for this audience member to determine. Whatever the combination, it worked well to bring out Einstein the man, as opposed to Einstein the caricature we see these days.

The set design, by John Toom (FB), was suitably cluttered for a physicists office, although some of the books were clearly not era appropriate. This was a pretty heavy set design for a fringe show (which have perhaps 10 minutes to load in and out): desks, chairs, loads of books, additional tables, and wall hangings. Toom also did whatever lighting design was possible in the shared Fringe environment. Cody Andersen (FB) was the stage manager, and Matt Sibley/FB was the production assistant. Peggy O’Neil (FB) was the vocal coach.

I should admit that I had another motive in attending this particular show. I’m local arrangements chair for the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), and I was hoping that lighting would strike twice at the Fringe, as it had last year for The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam.  Alas, I don’t think it did: I was unsure whether this show would be suitably engaging after a conference dinner; further, I’m not sure whether the staging requirements, props, and lighting could be accommodated within the conference budget in a typical hotel conference meeting space dining room. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for other ideas.

But as a Fringe show, this was great: accessible, scientifically engaging, and educational about the life of a historical figure that one probably didn’t know very well. Hell, add hip-hop and this could be Hamilton. Well, perhaps not, but it still was fun.

There are two more performances of Einstein! at Fringe: Friday, June 17th @ 7pm, and Saturday, June 25th @ 9pm. Performances take place at the McCadden Theatre, which is next to the Lex Theatre where The Boy from Oz is enjoying a sold-out run. The theatre is located one block E of Highland, and one block N of Santa Monica. Tickets are available through the Fringe Website, or through the ticketing link off the show’s website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Ah, June. Wonderful June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe/June schedule is as follows (for shows in the past, ✍ indicates writeup is in progress; ✒ indicates writeup is complete and links to the writeup):

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and … currently nothing for the weekend. As of right now, August is completely open. One weekend has a bar mitzvah, and there are a few holds for show, but nothing is booked. Late August may see us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.