Einstein's Secret Letters:
A Love Story
A Delicate Matter
Einstein's Secret Letters:
A Love Story
Love is Relative: New play exposes a fuzzy side to physics phenom Albert Einstein
By Jerry Tallmer
Poor Albert Einstein. Women got in his hair all his life. “I’m doing just fine,” he told a visiting Paul Robeson, “considering that I have triumphantly survived Nazism and two wives.”
That amusing line, says playwright J. B. Edwards, is not actually in Einstein’s letters to Johanna Fantova, “but it’s in the popular lexicon, like ‘God doesn’t play dice with the universe.’ ”
Trouble is, all his life Einstein couldn’t do without women. Even in the final 18 months of his life, two of them, librarian Fantova and secretary Helen Dukas, each 20 years younger than himself, battled for his attentions and his welfare in his house in Princeton. Or so Edwards has posited it in “Einstein’s Secret Letters: A Love Story,” running through this Sunday, October 2 at SoHo Rep.
In a Princeton University bulletin, Princeton graduate Edwards (who also has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Minnesota) read about the recent release of Fantova’s diary and a trove of letters the great man sent her that she’d saved for 25 years. Edwards and actress Memory Contento went down to Princeton, and “were given the white-glove treatment” in order to hold those letters in their hands.
“He had known Johanna all her life, ever since she was a little girl when he used to go to a salon on Wenceslas Square in Prague.” Years later Einstein helped her get a job in the Princeton Library and Fantova saved his letters. “My idea,” says the playwright, “was that these letters show Einstein as a man – like you and me – and what a piece of work that is, right?
“The arc of the play is that for the personally and professionally isolated Einstein, whose great discoveries had been made in 1918, here was a woman he could talk to, go sailing with; an intimate friend. Now, what do I mean by intimate? Nothing specific,” says Edwards. “But ‘pen,’ in German, is feminine, and ‘pencil’ is masculine, and somewhere he writes: ‘We are like a little pen and pencil – we fit together.’ She was his ‘little mimosa.’ ” She also cut his hair.
And the antipathy, in your play, between the two ladies, warm-hearted Johanna and cold, bossy Helen Dukas, keeper of the flame?
“That’s a dramatic tool. The whole deal is: ‘I am a scientist and a MAN, not a god.’”
Memory Contento plays Johanna, Waltrudis Buck plays Helen, Marvin Starkman plays Einstein, Robert Kya Hill plays Paul Robeson. The director is G. Beaudin. Shake well, and you have the General and Special Theories of Relativity.
A Delicate Matter
By I.A. Sdrawde, New York Play Reviews.
The newest play by J.B. Edwards,
A Delicate Matter, was presented at the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park. Set in a small New York apartment, Mattie and Jen are two middle aged sisters who have come back to live with their ageing mother. Mattie has never been married but has been Executive Vice President of Citibank for years and is now just retired. With no boyfriend or significant other in her life, she has decided temporarily to come back and help her elderly mother who is rapidly sinking into infirmity and dementia.
Her younger sister, Jen, is recently divorced for the third time, and has also moved back in with mother. She is broke and without a job and besides, she sort of likes the idea of going back to her childhood days with her mother and sister.
Mother is elderly and frail and rapidly declining into dementia. She has already given over all responsibility to her daughters (mostly to Mattie); who now make all of the everyday decisions of life for her, and worry about her impending end.
Jen is making every effort to block out the obvious decline of her mother. To her, that represents the inevitable transfer of responsibility to the next generation and loss of her childhood fantasies. At this vulnerable stage in her life, the last thing she wants is to accept the responsibilities of adulthood. In fact she never has throughout her life.
Stacey, the third and youngest sister, is totally confused and has been on and off drugs, alcohol, boyfriends and psychiatrists since she was a teenager. She has never left home. She always refers to her mother as "momma", whereas the other daughters call her mother, suggesting that she has an unhealthy, infantile attachment to her mother.
Mattie, performed admirably by Joan Faust, is the practical, businesslike career woman, who takes charge at every crisis and solves every one else's problems. In fact, she is very comfortable helping others cope. That way she can avoid dealing with her own fears about growing older alone. As she sees her mother declining into dependency and delusions, she imagines that she too will end up that way herself.
Mattie knows that dealing with her mother's illness, her sisters' immaturity and her own worries about facing life alone is a delicate matter.
As the play unfolds, it becomes apparent that Mattie's controlling nature is derived, at least in part, to several unfortunate encounters with her father when she was a little girl. In one memorable scene, Mattie recalls that her father had made something of a habit of spanking her. One time she specifically remembers that he spanked her on her bare bottom while holding her down. She can still remember that feeling of helplessness when a powerful person, much bigger and stronger than herself, had her in his iron grip. She seems to understand that her drive to be in control of the situation may come from that continuing fear of helplessness.
After three husbands, and working on her fiftieth birthday, Jen, as played ferociously by actress Sharlene Hartman, still doesn't know what she is going to be when she grows up. She's back in the old apartment because she can't afford to live by herself. But now that she's back, she feels like she's regressing to a little girl again, living with her ever-bossy older sister Mattie and her demanding and temperamental mother. It feels like the "old days" in the apartment with everyone there and no particular responsibilities. Jen doesn't see any reason to change things at this point in her life. She likes it fine the way it is.
As old as she is, she is always hypercritical and controlling, Mother, played by veteran actress and chanteuse D'yan Forest seems to make a habit of picking on the youngest daughter Stacey, perhaps because Stacey never left home. Mother is becoming progressively more debilitated both physically and mentally. Her advancing dementia requires action on the part of her daughters.
Already in her forties, Stacey, played to a whining and pouting intensity by new comer Kristen Wiles, is an eternal child. Incapable of forming lasting or satisfactory attachments to the opposite sex, she drifts from one disastrous relationship to another. But she knows that she can always go home to mother.
Throughout the play Mother keeps her youngest daughter on a tight leash. Stacey is a sometimes actress, who is self-demanding, severe, distant, unsmiling, she leads a secret life of self-mutilation. That she sleeps in the same bed with her domineering mother is no doubt a clue--but to what? That is left up to the audience to decide. Stacey is also fascinated with the sexual weaknesses and tastes of men. Most of her sexual relationships have a limited number of possible outcomes. Why she gets involved in so many doomed relationships is a mystery. Another mystery is: what's wrong with Stacey? She is not simply an adventuress, a sexual experimenter, a risk-taker. Some buried pathology is at work. Stacey is a deeply neurotic woman of volatile sexual and emotional impulses.
The final scene and it's confrontation with Mother resolve some of these mysteries for the audience. The others are left to their imaginations and their own private lives.
Amidst the din of Christmas party buzz and off key office bands last night at the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park was a not so peaceful sanctuary. It was actually upstairs, in the second floor drawing room, where the small but attentive audience watched as six people took shelter from a storm in a seedy Caribbean joint called the Sanctuary Café. Here the Reverend John Francis Sheehan and his significant other Missy struggle in this one-act reading with the revelation of his terrible secret by two not so innocent tourists.
In its first New York presentation by Third Avenue Productions, directed by Jeffery Stocker, with Memory Contento as Missy and Greg O’Donnell as the
Reverend, The Sanctuary is a tone poem of a play in which the lives of six people huddled in a small restaurant during a hurricane are interspersed with accusations of past sins, cries of loneliness and violent retribution. Rocky, a skinhead-type who spouts the simpleton expressions of patriotism and the Bible so commonly found in this land now a days, quickly discovers that the Reverend John Francis, as Missy always calls him, is a child molester ex-priest hiding from the authorities in St. Martin.
To complicate matters, the wind literally blows in Daisy, a woman with a certain reputation with men. Daisy is sexual and very available in the way many attractive women with no other particular talents are in tropical vacationlands. Rocky and Rob, the male half of the tourist couple, immediately focus on Daisy’s obvious charms. But she is fascinated by the more cerebral and contemplative ex-priest. This does not sit well with Missy of course, but she is occupied mostly with protecting her man from the predatory Rocky.
In this Pinteresque homily, the Reverend is sort of a modern-day saint who is a sinner but still yearns for God. Missy is a stand in for Mary Magdeline who ministers to her savior and yearns for the world to forgive him. While Rocky is the embodiment of the retribution and violence that always seems to be presented as an answer to any wrong these days.
In this play by New York playwright J.B. Edwards, Ms. Contento brought a dramatic tension to the role of Missy that sparks with electricity against the outstanding performance of Rocky played by young actor Marc Nolan. He brings to the play a sense of menace and danger, culminating in a smashing ending which leaves the audience gasping with excitement. The underlying intellectual content of this sexually charged melodrama is rich enough to have audiences asking themselves and others questions about God, faith, sin and forgiveness well after they return to their ordinary lives here in New
The Sanctuary is most definitely
J.B. Edwards' best work so far. The plot follows a classical pattern honoring the elements of drama perfectly and the climax is logical and exciting - crisis, climax and denouement all fall into place neatly. The characters are well drawn and multifaceted and the playwright has given them lively, entertaining dialogue to speak. The actors have fun with these characters.
The Sanctuary will make the audience squirm. I timed the play at well over two hours.
The Sanctuary will certainly leave the audience with something to consider and then surprise them in the second act.
This play is an exciting journey and it will be very interesting watching it develop over the next few months.
Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams
The Sanctuary, written by J. B. Edwards and directed by Jeffrey Stocker, is set in a seedy Caribbean dive called the Sanctuary Café. Six people are forced to seek “sanctuary” from a tropical storm. Stranded by the weather, they confront God and their inner demons as the storm rages outside. Mr. Edwards has set this ambitious work in a sad world of loneliness and senseless violence.
Having a group of strangers thrown together by chance is a device that has been used with good result in many well-known plays.
The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams is one such notable play, with characters thrown together on a tour bus.
The Sanctuary, like Iguana, features a defrocked priest as the protagonist. In
The Sanctuary, the priest is fleeing a scandal in New York and goes to the Caribbean to hide. On the night of the storm, he is recognized by a stranded tourist and forced to defend himself to a group of strangers.
Edwards has used the storm device to create a claustrophobic world where everyone feels free to talk openly about their innermost thoughts. And in the world of this play, they talk at length with no fear of interruption.
The Sanctuary is more of a tone poem than an actual play because most of the evening is spent with the characters telling us (in almost monologue form) who they are and what they want, rather than developing the story through interaction. The conflict that ends the story is supplied by the homophobic Rocky (very ably played by Robert Scorrano). Rocky detests everyone, and every time it is his turn to talk, he spews venom everywhere. Mr. Edwards has created a desolate world populated by strong characters. Now he needs to release them to tell his story of loneliness and the request for redemption.
The set was simple but effective. The sounds effects deftly portrayed a Caribbean storm. The actors and director did a very nice job. Of special note were Memory Contento as Missy, Sharlene Hartman as Daisy and Robert Scorrano as
the aforementioned Rocky.