by Adam Cohen
Having a muse is a pretty handy thing, especially if you’re a genius physicist named Albert Einstein. In the new musical “Einstein’s Dreams”, based on Alan Lightman’s novel, Einstein dallies and debates with his muse and advances his theory of relativity. The dreams explore the relationships between people and time, an essential part of the human condition.
The novel and musical present alternate worlds with a different time and musings on how time affects how people live. In the book, people in one world choose to live regimented by mechanical time or by their body’s fluid time. In a world where cause and effect aren’t necessarily chronological, scientists suffer while artists thrive. In a world where time passes slowly, people fear change. The set and projections are beautiful, coupled with some amazing performances and make for an indelible night of theater.
The production by Prospect Theater Company housed at 59E59 through December 14th, is beautiful to watch. Isabel Mengyaun Le’s set is a deep blue with a clock face. A few steps and bookcases, desk and chair, bring us to the Patent office where young Einstein toils. David Bengali’s projections are lovely and unexpected playful. Here an actor with a white cloth allows a bird to fly. The ingenuity augments enlivens the proceedings spectacularly. Where the set, actors, and projections illuminate, Joshua Rosenblum’s music is earth bound and repetitive. His lyrics share credit with book writer Joanne Sydney Lessner, and they too infrequently rise to the challenge of bringing Einstein, his muse, best friend Besso and co-workers to life.
Too often the songs don’t advance either Einstein’s theory or the production. Rather they revolve around the same theme – time – and have leaden lyrics that the actors hurriedly sing. The show amps the wit a few times to great delight. For instance, in “The Great Greats” where time skews generations to wryly comment on the ever-present opinions of family members. And when Einstein and Besso share a warm moment in “Love Is Not Science” in which Besso scolds Albert while rhyming “schematic” with “erratic” and “problematic.”
The gifted cast includes Zal Owen as Einstein, Brennan Caldwell as Besso and Alexandra Silber as Josette the Muse. Each has wonderful naturalistic moments and develops quite a rapport with one another. You believe in the good-natured friendship between Besso and Einstein. And Silber has a beautiful voice and artful mystique that lends Josette with the requisite mysticism and muse-ness.
From Einstein’s Dreams, I took away less of an understanding of time and physics. Yet the spirit of discovery and the musings of love and time remain true to any human. Curiosity is an inherently human trait, and the explorative creation of this production mirrors Einstein’s own.
Photos: Richard Termine
Einstein’s Dreams – produced by The Prospect Theater Company at 59e59 Theaters
Run Time: 1 hr. 35 min. thru December 14