In Jack Fry’s hands, the man who shook the foundation of physics is a stressed-out 35-year-old divorcé
By Christina Campodonico
When you hear the name Einstein, a few images may instantly come to mind — an aloof professor philosophizing over grand theorems in his study, a mad scientist frantically scribbling formulas on a chalkboard, or even an old white guy with disheveled hair who’s sticking out his tongue at a camera. (You know the picture I’m talking about.)
Actor and playwright Jack Fry wants to wipe away such oversimplified notions by getting under the skin of the man who shook the foundations of physics and whose name is now synonymous with almost any mindboggling stroke of genius.
In his one-man show “Einstein!” — playing on Monday at the Santa Monica Playhouse — Fry not only takes on the role of Einstein, he challenges the stereotypes associated with his intellect and “crazy hair.”
“I wanted to show an Einstein that people never really knew existed, or very few people did,” says Fry, who wrote the play based on 15,000 of Einstein’s personal documents released by Hebrew University in 2007. The collection of letters, notebooks and personal files had not been publicly available since Einstein’s death in 1955 and revealed
a treasure trove of new information.
“This is really the story that made his hair crazy,” says Fry, who lives in Santa Monica.
Set in 1914 Berlin, the play examines the early years of Einstein’s career. The story finds him at age 35 as he deals with a messy divorce from his first wife, scrutiny from the scientific establishment and rampant anti-Semitism, all while struggling to emotionally connect with his nine-year-old son.
Fry chose to focus the play on this part of Einstein’s life — the “pre-crazy hair” days, as he calls them — because these tumultuous years reveal the human side of this great intellectual figure as well as the struggles that led to some of Einstein’s biggest scientific achievements, including his General Theory of Relativity.
“His critics would say, ‘Oh, he’s just a brain, with no sort of intellectual compassion.’ But that was not the case at all,” says Fry. “This is the personal drama that really led into our modern technological age.”
As for getting into character, Fry doesn’t mind having Einstein on his brain often.
A schoolteacher by day, Fry is best known for his award-winning one-man show “They Call Me Mister Fry,” about his experiences teaching 5th grade in South Central L.A. He squeezes in rehearsals during recess or while driving to and from work, and continues to read and research about the life of Einstein as more information is released and uncovered.
“I find it takes a lifetime to study a lifetime, so I’m still learning about this man,” says Fry, who was named best actor at the 2014 London Fringe Festival in Ontario, Canada, by the London Free Press.
Fry has worked on the show for the past three years, taken it on tour through Canada, presented the play at the Lounge Theatre in Hollywood and reprises his role at the Santa Monica Playhouse whenever he’s about to hit the road again.
With 2015 marking the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, it’s been a busy year and he expects a heavy performance schedule to continue throughout 2016.
For Fry, Einstein is no longer a mythical figure or another part to play. He’s become a familiar alter ego.
“Right now, he’s just sort of embedded in my DNA,” says Fry.
“He lives within me.”
Jack Fry’s “Einstein” is in town for one night only. Fry takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 4, at the Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $35 and for sale at brownpapertickets.com/event/2002222.