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Threshold of revelation

Einstein dreams in Central Square; Skylight is illumined in Lowell
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  November 26, 2008

EINSTEIN’S DREAMS: These contemplations of time are framed in human rather than mathematical terms.

Time does cartwheels in Einstein's Dreams — and so does Einstein, in Wesley Savick's lyrical hurdy-gurdy built on MIT professor Alan Lightman's 1993 novel about a young Bern patent clerk sleeping on the job (from MIT Catalyst Collaborative/Underground Railway Theater at the Central Square Theater through December 14). Lightman's imagining of the 26-year-old Einstein's subliminal peregrinations as he labors to formulate his theories of time and space is a dreamier, more poetic affair than Savick's jaunty vaudeville, which Savick also directs. But both are rife with the bustle of the early-20th-century world through which the dreamer moves, however distractedly, while upright. And Savick's 80-minute theater piece — said to be Lightman's favorite of the several performance works into which his brief tome has been translated — captures not just the aura of the era but that of its music-hall entertainments. Enacted by a cast of three who share the stage with little more than three rotatable flats — one side black, the other luminescent — and an invaluable composer/accordionist to push time and time traveler along, the show is brain food that's more beer and pretzels than dense computative sausage.

Of course, it's Lightman who dreamed a burgeoning Einstein whose contemplations of time are framed in human rather than mathematical terms. There is no mention of gravitational fields or relativity in Einstein's Dreams. And Savick just falls into step, adding some jêtûs and softshoe. We meet the newlywed patent clerk as he snoozes center stage, putting the finishing touches, we're told, on a paper he intends to mail off to Germany's leading physics journal that very day. Abetted by male and female figments of his imagination that double as Einstein friend Michele Besso and the officious typist who will turn his notes into a more neatly chiseled cornerstone of modern physics, our somnambulistic office worker then doubles back on the chimeræ in which he has imagined various possibilities for the properties of time in different if geographically corresponding worlds. In these flights, the time-space continuum flows backward, stands still, runs in circles, bounces as if between mirrors, or goes on forever, dividing the humans in its maelstrom into "Nows," who can't wait to get cracking on infinite possibilities, and "Nevers," for whom procrastination becomes a way of life.

Savick has edited Einstein's dreams, choosing, I imagine, the ones he found most theatrical (by my count, he includes roughly half of Lightman's vignettes) and placing Robert Najarian's sheepish Einstein right in the middle of them. The quaintly belted, messy-haired title character seems, in fact, to be brainstorming with his own imagination, as represented by the "dream tellers" of beknickered, hail-fellow Steven Barkhimer and buttoned-up but vamping Debra Wise.

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Related: Boston Theater Marathon 2008, Players and painted stage, Love and war, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Steven Barkhimer, Bill Clarke,  More more >
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