2014 Edmonton Fringe Review: Einstein!

If you only know Albert Einstein because he did E=mc2 and sticks his tongue out on t-shirts, you don't really know the man.

This is the premise behind the simply named Einstein, a one-man play written by and starring Jack Fry as the scientist who needs no first name. Of course the same is also true of Feynman, Oppenheimer, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Newton, Dyson, Higgs, LaGrange, Gauss, Ohm, de Broglie, Chandrasekhar, I think you get the picture. As xkcd would note though, you can't do a one-man play about Feynman and no Fringe show could afford all the women.

We start off with the famous mass-energy formula, but it's pretty quickly forgotten. Remember, mass-energy equivalence is special relativity kids, the idea of Lorentz transformations in an inertial reference frame. Albert quickly moves us onto the real meat of this play: general relativity. That's where the big controversy existed in the early days of the First World War, and unfortunately for Einstein he paid a very high personal price: his first wife and he had decided to divorce, and Einstein was forced to make that age-old decision between family and career. As he tells us, his career obviously won: that's why we all know his name and make bobbleheads and t-shirts.

Most of the drama in the play comes from the various expeditions trying to verify general relatively using eclipse photography, the difficulties in wartime of collecting this information, Einstein's deteriorating family life, and the new threat of some of his rivals deciding to prove his theories wrong. The latter threat was the most serious for Einstein's immediate future: without success and notoriety he wouldn't be able to support his family and maybe win back his children's affections.

The script and delivery are quite good, and really draws into the tale of how Einstein's early days were fraught with difficulty. David Hilbert is made out to be the primary villain of this piece -- Göttingen is clearly a debate rather than a lecture series in this version of events -- and not as much of Einstein's non-family personal life is delved into than you might think, though he does toss off a couple lines on his agnosticism and Jewry and several on his pacifism. Still, the play does wring a fair bit of education and entertainment out of its lines, and Fry is good at differentiating between his various characters. I personally would have replaced a few of the more modern references with more of the science and the history behind it, but I suppose it helps ground the audience: K'mpec didn't like the play at all and almost fell asleep during it so your mileage may vary.

Final word: An excellent performance on an intriguing subject that gets maximum drama out of its basis while never losing that when you're with a pretty girl relativity means an hour feels like a minute.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)