by Gabriel Emanuel
March 1, 7-12
Norman Rothstein Theatre
The Chutzpah! Festival of Jewish arts and culture puts on stage one of the most famous Jews of modern times in the figure of Albert Einstein, who paradoxically considered himself both an atheist and a Zionist. Hounded out of Germany by the Nazis, who loathed his “Jewish physics,” Einstein, of course, got the last laugh.
Although Gabriel Emanuel’s 1985 script has plenty of wit, Chris Britton’s extremely low-key solo performance as Einstein doesn’t generate many laughs. Nor does Britton convey much of the energy or intellectual passion that drove the man. While we get a good deal of mc2, this show could use a lot more e.
Einstein speaks to us on the eve of his 70th birthday from Princeton University where he’s still raking in the honours and quietly working on his unified field theory. Sitting in his messy study in bare feet before a blackboard full of equations, he reluctantly dresses to receive his latest honorary degree and an offer to become President of Israel. He accepts the degree but not the presidency. “Politics,” he says, “is only for a moment. An equation is for eternity.”
Looking back over his life, Einstein laments his inability to avoid politics. Unlike fellow German-Jewish Nobel Prize winning scientist Fritz Haber—whose story was told in another Canadian play recently produced here, Einstein’s Gift—Einstein never tried to accommodate himself to the political demands of the anti-Semitic German system. Nor did he encourage practical applications of his science. His physics was always only theoretical, he insists.
But of course his physics was what let the nuclear genie out of the bottle, and he admits that he reluctantly signed the letter urging the American President to develop an atomic bomb before the Nazis could develop theirs. The life-long pacifist re-reads with bitterness headlines that call the Hiroshima bomb “the greatest achievement of organized science in history.”
The note of guilt and melancholy carries over into his personal life. He confesses that he neglected the needs of his schizophrenic son and his first wife because “I was working.”
Einstein’s accounts of his unlikely celebrity and his attempts to explain relativity theory to a dumbed-down press contain a lot of wry humour. But Britton underplays it, as if the guilt and melancholy have knocked the stuffing out of the man. He has a few moments of high passion after the momentum-killing intermission (the show’s playing time is only about an hour) when Einstein re-enacts a Nazi scientist’s rabid denunciation of him. But for the most part Britton sticks to his soft-spoken, matter-of-fact delivery style.