Plenty to chew on in ExPats’ thoughtful production of ‘Einstein’s Wife’

Serbian playwright Snezana Gnjidic postulates possibility of dual responsibility for the Theory of Relativity.

Ready for a dandy production about the complicated life with a child-like diva who happens to be a genius? Then consider Einstein’s Wife from ExPats Theatre.

Cecelia Auerswald as Mileva Maric and Sasha Olinick as Albert Einstein in ExPats Theatre’s ‘Einstein’s Wife.’ Photo by Patrick Gallagher Landes.

Written by Serbian playwright Snezana Gnjidic, with an idea and translation by Milena Trobozic Garfield, Einstein’s Wife is set in the early twentieth century in various European locales. It explores the turbulent fictionalized private lives of a young and restless Albert Einstein (played by Sasha Olinick with kinetic energy aplenty) and his intense, introspective first wife, Mileva Maric (portrayed with inspired politeness and a shimmering ache by Cecelia Auerswald). Their complicated marriage includes being parents of three children, one of whom, a daughter, tragically dies very young.

But more so, Einstein’s Wife provides plenty to chew on about the difficulties of being a gifted woman like Mileva, a brilliant scientist in her own right who lived in a male-dominated society and in the shadow of her dazzling husband. Einstein’s Wife is based upon recently unearthed personal correspondence between Mileva and Einstein that shows her substantial importance to his scientific success. She received no professional or public credit.

Directed with a stimulating, caring hand by Karin Rosnizeck, Einstein’s Wife opens with a fascinating conceit. Both Einstein and Maric are dead. They are stuck together, consigned to their own private hell – just the two of them. They are in a way-station where they relive their past lives.

As the play takes hold, the audience witnesses the couple’s tenderness and their arguments. Watching Auerswald and Olinick working together as a couple had me lean into them. I wanted to feel what they were presenting. They were not artificial.

As Einstein’s Wife continues, the audience witnesses some startlingly well-played scenes over the production’s approximately 85 minutes. There is a richly romantic scene. It is a luscious night (thanks to Dylan Uremovich’s wonderful lighting and brilliant projections) as together they “find” the Theory of Relativity. There are moments of utter despair as the bitterness between them builds and their marriage begins to fall apart. The playwright paints a vivid picture that parenthood was an unwanted burden for Albert. The deep pain of Mileva, surrounded by early twentieth-century society unprepared for and willing to accept a woman’s professional achievements, is palpable.

Cecelia Auerswald at Mileva Maric in ‘Einstein’s Wife.’ Photo by Patrick Gallagher Landes.

In the intimacy of Lab Theatre II at Atlas, scene after scene immerses the audience in ambiguity that adds to the script’s overall thoughtful nature. Know that not everything in the Einstein household is clearly delineated – who is to blame, who is innocent. This play has a balance to it, even if most of the time, Albert is quite a playful, if petulant, sh*t.

The production’s technical design elements, such as the scenic design by Alexa Ross, are minimal – just a few spots to sit, lounge, or lay down. Uremovich’s lively projections are another living character; they move, they dance, adding energy to the production. Alisa Mandel’s costumes are of the period, fittingly demure.

Einstein’s Wife asks the audience to be attentive and generous. A thoughtful production of a handsome script, it explores matters with a reserved nature.

That nature permits the audience to contemplate the playwright’s program note that “it ultimately does not matter who wrote the theory of relativity. Mileva loved Albert all her life and wanted the best for his work in science.” Gnjidic added, “We have to encourage women in their own way, to be visible, to be strong and valued for their work.”  Einstein’s Wife does that, and very well indeed.

Running Time: About 85 minutes, with no intermission.

Einstein’s Wife runs through March 22, 2020, at Lab Theatre II, Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, go online.

Fight Choreographer Ian Claar, Assistant Director Mary May

READ John Stoltenberg’s Magic Time! column, “Another lost female genius found, in ‘Einstein’s Wife’ at ExPats Theatre”


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