2016 FringeNYC Review: ‘Einstein!’

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15,000 documents ÷ 3 years of intensive research + 1 actor x 9 characters = the formula for success with Einstein! Written and performed by Jack Fry, the one-man tour-de-force brings the titular genius of relativity back from the dead to correct the public misconceptions about him and his life. Based on a treasure trove of personal letters, files, and records released by Hebrew University in 2007, Fry’s bioplay examines the early life in Berlin of the world’s most famous physicist, as he struggles with his Nobel Prize-winning theory, the devastation of World War I, his deteriorating marriage, and regrets over his estrangement from his young son Hans.

Jack Fry in 'Einstein.' Photo by Jesse Ashton.

Jack Fry in ‘Einstein.’ Photo by Jesse Ashton.

Directed with forceful energy by Tom Blomquist, Fry commands the stage and fully inhabits his role in an animated and emotional performance, employing engaging and humorous interactions with the audience in a direct-address format (there’s a funny running joke with cookies), revealing the near-manic intensity and breadth of Einstein’s thinking (including a terrific sight-gag on his iconic wild hair, and the brilliant observation that “Imagination is more important than knowledge; knowledge is limited”), and disclosing his frantic determination to “solve the final piece of the relativity puzzle” and to win the Nobel Prize.

He is in constant motion as he lectures and expounds his thoughts on the inter-relationships of time, space, and light (physics advised by Ron Mallet), deals with combative phone calls from his wife (Alexandra Kovacs provides the voice of the unseen Mileva Marić), faces discrimination in war-torn Europe as a Jew and a pacifist, and is caught between the time-consuming obsession with his work and the pain of losing his family (“The only formula I can’t seem to figure out.”).

Jack Frey in 'Einstein' in 2015. Photo by Denis Ryan Kelly Jr.

Jack Frey in ‘Einstein’ in 2015. Photo by Denis Ryan Kelly Jr.

Along with his compelling portrayal of Einstein, Fry clearly distinguishes between his characterizations of the supporting figures in the narrative. He changes his physical mannerisms, demeanor, and speech patterns (with Peggy O’Neal serving as vocal coach and assistant director), believably assuming their personalities to recount private conversations and to read aloud letters from his often competitive, sometimes supportive, colleagues.

Fry’s stellar performance is enriched with video projections, clear and effective sound, and simple vintage-style props and set by John Toom.

Everything about Einstein! is pure genius!

Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, with no intermission.

Einstein! plays through Friday, August 26, performing at Under St. Mark’s Theatre – 94 St. Mark’s Place, in NYC. Purchase tickets online.

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