ExPats Theatre’s production of Einstein’s Wife, (it bears the subtitle, An Imagined Encounter) takes place in an algorithmically graphed and projected after-life (Projections by Dylan Uremovich), where we meet the deceased Mileva Maric, a talented and disciplined Serbian scientist and her equally deceased, but more celebrated, husband, Albert Einstein, who is credited with having given us the theory of relativity. Over the course of the play, they revisit and grapple with the unfinished business of both their marriage and careers as scientists.
As the lights come up, Einstein is re-emerging from his recent death and coming into consciousness in the after-life, where he is shocked to find himself, not only in an after-life, but also in the presence of his first wife.
Cecelia Auerswald portrays Mileva Maric as a woman with an extremely dry wit, who, being a rigorous, clear-seeing academic, does not suffer fools in her life nor dishonesty in research. Sasha Olinick’s Albert Einstein, undeniably geniused, is also needy and self-centered in a way that the world does not allow women to be.
The impetus for this play comes from the book “In Albert’s Shadow: the Life and Letters of Mileva Maric,” which made the claim that Maric was co-author of Einstein’s theory of relativity. The play is less concerned with arguing that claim than with singeing into the audience’s remembrance the fact that Maric existed and raising to our awareness her accomplishments and resilient humanity, despite the challenges she faced in that pre-suffrage era while raising two children and (losing a third child to scarlet fever) without the help of her famous husband.
Einstein encounters the dead child, a girl, Lieserl in this expansive and shadowy after-life. It’s a touching scene of a idealized, wished-for daughter-and-father encounter, allowing Einstein to experience the opportunities to grieve and to parent that he missed in life. Auerswald also plays the deceased Lieserl with a luminous vulnerability.
The playing area is a basic black space that is symmetrically framed by two large amorphous rock-like structures. Lieserl emerges from and returns to one of these structures. At the back of the stage is a huge screen on which is projected images of shape-shifting structures suggested by the imaginings of a physicist. These projections are quite stunning: a living, changing tubular pathway, pulling us into the story of these two people.
In the program, the playwright has noted some of the letters she was inspired by when investigating evidence of Einstein’s and Maric’s interdependence and collaboration: “In September 1900, Albert wrote to Mileva: “I look forward to resume our new common work. You must now continue with your research – how proud I will be to have a doctor for my spouse when I’ll only be an ordinary man.” And “How happy and proud I will be when the two of us together will have brought our work on relative motion to a victorious conclusion.” Work by, or even merely done in collaboration with women was often dismissed during the early 20th century.
Einstein’s Wife closes March 22, 2020. DCTS details and tickets
ExPats Theatre is “devoted to connecting people across cultures through theater and the performing arts.” With this production of Einstein’s Wife, the company tells an engaging story of importance to Serbian expatriates living and working in Washington, D.C.: a story that lets Serbians see a positive picture of themselves and helps non-Serbians in Washington understand more about the culture, passion and concerns of their often invisible neighbors.
Einstein’s Wife by Snezana Gnjidic. Director, Karin Rosnizeck. Idea and translation by Milena Trobozic Garfield. Assistant Director, Mary May. Cast: Cecelia Auerswald, Sasha Olinick. Set Design, Alexa Ross. Costume Design, Alisa Mandel. Lights/Projection Design, Dylan Uremovich. Fight Choreographer, Ian Claar. Stage manager, Laura Schlachtmeyeer. Produced by ExPats Theatre. Reviewed by Gregory Ford.