Review: Relativity (Northlight Theatre)

| June 13, 2017

Mike Nussbaum stars as Albert Einstein in Relativity, Northlight Theatre           



Written by Mark St. Germain
Northlight Theatre, Skokie (map)
thru Jun 25  |  tix: $30-$81  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   

Now extended thru June 25


Nussbaum illuminates Einstein’s private world in Northlight premiere


Mike Nussbaum stars as Albert Einstein in Relativity by Mark St. Germain

Northlight Theatre presents

Review by Catey Sullivan

If ever there was an actor/part pairing that truly lived up to the “born to play the role” cliché, it’s the one on stage now at Skokie’s Northlight Theatre. As Albert Einstein, Mike Nussbaum embodies the iconic genius from head to toe. Look at pictures of the two side by side and you realize they could probably pass as twins. Still, it would be a significant disservice to describe Nussbaum’s work in playwright Mark St. Germain’s intriguing Relativity as simply a function of his striking physical resemblance to the man who unlocked the secrets of the universe.

Mike Nussbaum and Katherine Keberlein star as Einstein and Margaret Harding in Relativity, NorthlightDirected by BJ Jones, Nussbaum (of course) goes far deeper than the famously tousled shock of white hair that Einstein will forever be associated with. Relativity digs into the private Einstein, the man behind the iconic equation of energy, mass, speed and light.

If you’re not a rocket scientist, you’ll leave Relativity with a better understanding of the observable universe, and a greater awe of whatever lies beyond it. The drama is tinged with science, and gracefully touches down on the dazzling mysteries Einstein helped unlock.

But Relativity is first and foremost a drama about human relationships and their defiance of the reliable rules and laws that govern the known world. Relationships are the massive monkey wrench in the cosmic equation: They are unpredictable, ungovernable and as chaotic as emotion. Their messiness is at the core of Relativity, along with a query for the ages: If you’re a great man, does it matter whether you’re also a good man?

As he’s grilled by a young reporter, Einstein snaps that it doesn’t matter. So what if Charles Dickens abused his wife and turned his back on his children? What matters isn’t that Dickens left his family, Einstein declares. What matters is that Dickens left the world his novels.

Reporter Margaret Harding (Katherine Keberlein) disagrees. And over the course of her polite but relentless interview, she opens a long-sealed scar. Einstein had a daughter, born in 1902. He abandoned the baby and the baby’s mother. Margaret won’t leave Einstein’s inner sacred home office until she has answers. How can Einstein live with himself after renouncing his own infant daughter and her mother? How can such a brilliant man also be such a cruel man?

Despite the intensely hostile glare of Einstein’s protective housekeeper Helen (Ann Whitney), Margaret remains undaunted. Over the course of St. Germain’s 75-minute dialogue, Einstein eventually cracks open – just a bit.

Mike Nussbaum stars as Albert Einstein in Relativity, Northlight Theatre Mike Nussbaum and Ann Whitney star as Einstein and Helen Dukas in Relativity, Northlight TheatreMike Nussbaum and Katherine Keberlein star as Albert Einstein and Margaret Harding in Relativity

Nussbaum is the inarguable star of the production and he’s got a leonine presence even when he’s Einstein-as-slightly-daffy-absent-minded-professor. Einstein changes over the course of his conversation with Margaret – his uncompromisingly authoritative nature is rattled.

As the tremors of uncertainty flicker across Nussbaum’s face, it’s almost like watching a hairline crack form on a dinner plate. There’s nothing heavy handed in St. Germain’s writing, but it’s eminently fitting that several plates and the odd tea cup are smashed over the course of the production. As the dinnerware cracks, it’s impossible not to see the parallel with Einstein’s own previously unbreakable sense of his own righteousness.

Keberlein is a formidable scene partner for Nussbaum. Margaret looks like she stepped out of a circa 1950 Vogue editorial – Einstein flirtatiously remarks repeatedly on her attractiveness. But there’s steel underlying the impeccably ladylike veneer. Margaret has a powerful impetus for getting her interview with the elusive Einstein, and once she’s got him in her sights, she has the tenacity of a bull. Whitney’s possessive housekeeper Helen is also no shrinking violet; she’s ferociously devoted to protecting Einstein. Watching Helen and Margaret square off is a delight.

Jack Magaw’s set design is a detailed representation of Einstein’s inner sanctum – the home office he guards with obsessive rigor. It’s enhanced by Stephan Mazurek’s towering projections, which provide a dreamy visual for the nuts and bolts of physics.

At only 75 minutes, Relativity might well leave you wanting more. Brevity or no, however, it contains multitudes.

Rating: ★★★½

Relativity continues through June 18  June 25th at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd. (map), with performances Wednesdays 1pm &7:30pm, Thursdays 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 2:30pm & 8pm, Sundays 2:30pm.  Tickets are $30-$81 (students: $15), and are available by phone (847-673-6300) or through their website (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 75 minutes, no intermission)

Mike Nussbaum and Katherine Keberlein star as Einstein and Margaret Harding in Relativity by Mark St. Germain

Photos by Michael Brosilow 




Katherine Keberlein (Margaret Harding), Mike Nussbaum (Albert Einstein), Ann Whitney (Helen Dukas)

behind the scenes

BJ Jones (director), Jack Magaw (set design), JR Lederle (lighting design), Rachel Laritz (costume design), Andrew Hansen (sound design), Stephan Mazurek (projections), Rita Vreeland (production stage manager).


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, New Work, North Shore Center for the Arts, Northlight Theatre, Video, World Premier, YouTube

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