“Relativity” at Taproot Theatre

“Relativity” Now there’s a concept with two distinct meanings. And it’s that dual conception that’s at the heart of this clever play by Mark St. Germain. “Relativity” can be used in relation to family members, but it is also the Einstein’s theory that upended the world of physics and put him in a class with Copernicus, Newton and the other truly great theoreticians through history.

This play imagines a late-in-life encounter between Einstein and a mature woman who claims to be the daughter that he fathered in 1902. Throughout his lifetime, Einstein never referred to her. Shortly after her supposed birth he published the E=mc2 papers that crowned his genius. This is a play that explores the relationship between genius and compassion, between greatness and goodness.

The now mature daughter (well played by Candace Vance) shows up one day at Einstein’s lodgings. Of course he denies any relationship, and of course she presses her case claiming to have been adopted and to have found letters that prove her relationship to Einstein. During their fraught encounter the issue of commitment is central. What does one owe to one’s work and what to one’s family? Must genius be sacrificed for quotidian concerns?

Einstein admits he made the decision to devote his life to his work not his family. And how can anyone say that was the wrong decision? So many other issues related to the worth of a human life find expression here as the two are embroiled in their struggle.

The tension is broken time and again by the entry of Einstein’s housekeeper, Miss Dukas. As Pam Nolte plays her she’s a presence to be reckoned with. Her role is not just sweeping floors and making meals. She’s there to protect the great man, and she takes her role seriously. The interplay between Nolte as Ms. Dukas and Candace Vance as the purported daughter is delicious.

Dennis Bateman as Einstein well captures the genius of the scientist and the cluelessness of the human being. All he wants is to be left alone so he can think and imagine new concepts.

Mark Lund’s staging of this production is particularly effective. Einstein’ study is crammed with books and papers as we would imagine it. No curtain separates it from the audience. On entry, the audience finds a stage bathed in blue lights with mathematical formulas written on floors, walls and furniture. It’s a great effect.

Through Oct. 21, at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, 206 781-9707 or box@taproottheatre.org.

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