TheaterWorks’ ‘Relativity’ An Entertaining Balance Of Comedy, Tragedy

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Lest you feel intimidated by seeing a play about Albert Einstein, a name synonymous with genius, know that title of Mark St. Germain‘s new bio drama “Relativity” is a cheap pun.

The play, having its premiere at TheaterWorks through Nov. 23 (yes, the run has been extended again), is about Albert Einstein, and of course his theory of relativity is discussed. But it’s also about his relatives, particularly a daughter he abandoned at birth.

Those are two heavy topics for a short, three-person play. St. Germain, the prolific playwright whose “Dancing Lessons” and “Freud’s Last Session” have been staged at TheaterWorks in the past, has specialized in smart yet accessible plays about world history, philosophy and social conscience. He’s like the Public Broadcasting Service of the regional theater realm.

St. Germain works the concept of relativity into the fabric of this new work. He balances darkness with lightness. He delves into Einstein’s private life while riffing on the absurd scale of his worldwide fame. He balances comedy and tragedy.

Having an internationally known film star, Richard Dreyfuss, play this iconic brainiac makes St. Germain’s job considerably easier. Dreyfuss has the rare ability to underplay and overwhelm at the same time. He has a laid-back majesty supremely suited to this tricky role.

Dreyfuss shares St. Germain’s concern about lightening the drama whenever possible. He makes a funny popping sound with his mouth. He can play out the word “Well…” into multiple syllables. He delights in a toy on his desk.

Read the full article from the Hartford Courant here.

Raving Review of WINTER written by Julie Jensen, directed by Tracy Callahan

Review: ‘Winter’ poses timely questions about life and death in knockout Salt Lake premiere

The essence of theater is collaboration. We’ve all heard that before, but occasionally a production exemplifies it so perfectly that you want to bottle it for drama students. Peggy Battin wrote a story; Anne Cullimore Decker read it, was impressed and gave it to local playwright Julie Jensen; Jensen wrote a play and enlisted “Mockingbird” collaborator Tracy Callahan to direct it. The result, “Winter,” is making its world premiere at Salt Lake Acting Company in a production that promises to be one of the best of the season.

The subject couldn’t be timelier. Annis, Decker’s character, is having a crisis; she might ironically call it “a matter of life and death” because she loves to play with language. Strings of connected words fall from her tongue. When husband Robeck (Bob Nelson) says she is “obsessing,” she counters with “compressing, distressing, regressing,” and the name Calhoun elicits “balloon, baboon, buffoon, lampoon, raccoon.” But lately “I’m losing it. And it frightens me,” she tells Robeck. “Big chunks of my mind fall away.”

The essence of theater is collaboration. We’ve all heard that before, but occasionally a production exemplifies it so perfectly that you want to bottle it for drama students. Peggy Battin wrote a story; Anne Cullimore Decker read it, was impressed and gave it to local playwright Julie Jensen; Jensen wrote a play and enlisted “Mockingbird” collaborator Tracy Callahan to direct it. The result, “Winter,” is making its world premiere at Salt Lake Acting Company in a production that promises to be one of the best of the season.

The subject couldn’t be timelier. Annis, Decker’s character, is having a crisis; she might ironically call it “a matter of life and death” because she loves to play with language. Strings of connected words fall from her tongue. When husband Robeck (Bob Nelson) says she is “obsessing,” she counters with “compressing, distressing, regressing,” and the name Calhoun elicits “balloon, baboon, buffoon, lampoon, raccoon.” But lately “I’m losing it. And it frightens me,” she tells Robeck. “Big chunks of my mind fall away.”

Read the full article from The Salt Lake Tribune here.

Children Will Listen: TYA Shows Get Political

In New Haven, Conn., Collective Consciousness Theatre will tour Stories of a New America to Connecticut school and community venues in spring 2017. Created in partnership with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in 2011, Stories of a New America features excerpts from interviews the company conducted with more than 100 refugees, many from the Middle East, the Congo, and other war-torn regions.

“We wanted to know how they got here and what their journey was,” says Collective Consciousness’s executive artistic director, Dexter J. Singleton. “All of them had to deal with suddenly having their lives uprooted and changed forever. How did they remain so strong in the face of such danger?”

The interview process took longer than a year and a half, and required the help of translators working in more than a dozen languages. “Many of the stories were funny, heartbreaking, joyous, and remarkable,” says Singleton. “We whittled [the interviews] down to the ones we thought best captured the heart of what it means to be a refugee in America. We’re proud of the fact that every single word of the play is from their words. We just shaped it into a clear narrative that all people can relate to.”

The diverse cast features American and refugee actors, and the play includes several different languages. Singleton observes that kids have responded enthusiastically to the play over the years, and emphasizes the value of bringing refugee stories to children.

“I think it’s always important for young people to hear the stories of refugees so that they can learn about the effects of wars and conflicts,” he says. “They can learn empathy and develop a greater understanding of people’s lives that are different from their own. Unfortunately, the play is still timely, as the prejudice and lack of empathy toward refugees in America has gotten worse.”

Read the full article from AMERICAN THEATRE here.  

Lewis Center for the Arts presents “Curtain Up: Celebrating Music Theater at Princeton”

(PRINCETON, NJ)  — Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts and the Department of Music will mark the launch of a new Program in Music Theater with a day-long symposium on Princeton’s music theater past, present and future on Saturday, October 8 from 10:00am to 5:00pm in the James M. Stewart ’32 Theater at 185 Nassau Street. The event is free and open to the public, however advance reservations are encouraged at arts.princeton.edu/curtainup.

At 11:00am, a panel entitled “Why Music Theater” will address the experiences, inspirations and motivations of those who are pursuing a career in music theater writing or composing, as well as the larger question of why it matters that we write music theater. The panel will feature composer and lyricist Pete Mills ’95, director and writer Cara Reichel ’96, who are the founding members of the Prospect Theatre Company; visiting Lecturer in Theater Robert Lee ’92; and recent alumna and composer Sam Kaseta ’15. The panel will begin with a short performance of an original piece by Kaseta.

Read the full article from the New Jersey Stage  here.

Richard Dreyfuss Likes Finding Work Off Beaten Path (i.e., TheaterWorks)

But, slumped comfortably in an upholstered chair in a rehearsal room at Hartford’s TheaterWorks on Pearl Street, where he’ll perform in Mark St. Germain‘s play “Relativity” Oct. 7 through Nov. 20, Dreyfuss doesn’t seem fazed by paths not taken. He obviously has a love for theater that’s found off the beaten path.

When asked if he prefers the regional theater realm to Broadway, Dreyfuss waves an arm around himself. Here he is. The show may well move on to New York, though nothing has been confirmed. Hartford has it now. The TheaterWorks run of “Relativity” was just extended by a week, and is selling out quickly.

When TheaterWorks approached Richard Dreyfuss to play Albert Einstein in the theater’s season-opening production of “Relativity,” little did they know that Dreyfuss had recently read Walter Isaacson’s biography “Einstein: His Life and Universe.” Nor did they know that Dreyfuss had written an unproduced screenplay about the renowned physicist.

 

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Finding The Spectacle

Will “Relativity” be as physically demanding as some of his Shakespearean roles?

“Well, I wrestle her,” Dreyfuss deadpans about castmate Christa Scott-Reed, who plays Margaret Harding in the play. He extends the joke with hilarious imagined descriptions of other violent altercations.

In truth, “Relativity” spars with words rather than fists. Einstein, while wrestling in his mind with matters of time and space, is forced by an unexpected visitor to confront a difficult personal decision from his past.

Despite the number of chairs apparent in the small office setting of the play, “Relativity” sounds like quite a lively piece. Dreyfuss will wield a violin, for instance.

The spirited encounter in the play is in keeping with previous Mark St. Germain works such as “Freud’s Last Session,” “Camping With Henry and Tom” and “Becoming Dr. Ruth.” Those shows also uncovered uncomfortable yet illuminating episodes in the lives of celebrated public figures.

“First of all, it’s all true,” says Dreyfuss of “Relativity.” “Hopefully, we’ll find a way to hit the audience right in the mouth. It has to be the verbal equivalent of ‘The Lion King.’ You have to have some spectacle or it’s not interesting.”

Dreyfuss ruminates a lot on the power of the spoken word and the value of thoughtful leadership. Thirty years ago, he co-founded the still-active and highly influential L.A. Theatre Works (unrelated to the similarly named Hartford company), which produces popular radio versions of classic plays. Dreyfuss has performed in numerous broadcasts with L.A. Theatre Works including the Arthur Miller dramas “The Crucible” and “The Price.”

The actor rhapsodizes about Orson Welles and how he brought a special style to his “Mercury Theatre on the Air” radio shows of the late 1930s. He speaks animatedly of the great potential he still sees in radio drama. “I want to reinvent radio theater,” he proclaims.

Read the full article from the Hartford Courant here.