Written and Performed by Kres Mersky. Directed by Paul Gertson
One night only , January 25th, 2020. Beckman Auditorium, Caltech, Pasadena
There are echos of Albert Einstein at Caltech and the Beckman Auditorium is the perfect blend of intellect, humor and glamor for this play.
He came to the campus three times during his life as a visiting professor and even considered a permanent position there, before ended up at Princeton…
This quite brilliant solo play is centered not around Einstein at all really, but around Ellen Schoenhammer, a fictionalized version of Einsteins actual secretary, Helen Dukas and developed over many years of pouring through interviews and documents and researching the books Dukas wrote about her time with the greatest mind of our human history. During the play we visit Schoenhammer three times, over a span of 20 plus years. The entire performance is set in Einsteins office, which she shares with him. We the audience are cast as journalists, waiting patiently for a conference with the great man…Mersky’s Schoenhammer is the gate keeper, trying, a bit desperately at first, to entertain the restless crowd as Einstein is delayed.
She regales us with stories from her life as Einsteins secretary. How they met, she a young women unnerved by his godlike presence and yet clever enough by far for him. How they work together, what he relies on her for, their closeness, his childlike nature, her admiration for him and her deep understanding of the privilege of her position…although it’s clear she would never share that with her employer.
Mersky manages to flit through these beautifully chosen moments in time effortlessly, with no gratuitous place holders, no unnecessarily clumsy “here we are in 1934.” She relies on the writing, the movement of the story, the attention of her audience and her inane ability to convey with grace and cleverness the passage of years. She is magical in fact. As she connects to her journalists…her audience, she becomes more familiar with every leap. More comfortable with her position. More intimate with her language and her demeanor. Her German strength and her German shame all layers of history and time.
How to tell a story about Einstein without him…it’s a brilliant concept really. A woman writer and actor with a need to tell a story, her story, about a man so familiar to us all. A pop culture icon, a vivd creature seared into our collective memory as surely as The Beatles, Santa Claus or any number of gods. The time jumps are a sublime gesture to the subject of his work. There are references to it, attempts to explain it even, but the actual physical sense of it, on stage and subtle to a fault is just really breathtaking.
Kres Mersky has created an exquisite piece of theatre. Funny, moving, insanely and mesmerizingly inventive. She weaves and spins and unfolds her performance with a kind of genius that even this master Einstein would envy.
If you ever get the chance to see this absolutely wonderful play I urge you to grab it with both hands…firmly. Mersky is that perfection that exists when an actor’s authentic self inhabits the character and their story so completely that we wish it would never end. I just can’t stop thinking about it…Bravo!