Can one famous formula-turned-phrase make a man? What does that recognizable formula say about the character of the person who created it?
The one-woman play The Life and Times of A. Einstein, coming to the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre Friday through Sunday, July 21-23, explores these questions. Directed by Paul Gersen and starring playwright/actress Kres Mersky, the off-beat fictional comedy centers on Ellen Shoenhammer, the secretary to Prof. Einstein—although she is far more than just his secretary.
The character is loosely based on Einstein’s real secretary, Helen Dukas, whose duties included chauffeur, bodyguard and media liaison. She worked to keep his public image clear of scandal. She kept track of his dalliances and hid all of this damaging information protect his family. She was also the manager of all his business affairs—not a small feat, especially when dealing with a busy “genius.” After her death in the 1980s, much of her correspondence was uncovered—and that’s when so much was discovered about Einstein’s illicit affairs.
Mersky told me that The Life and Times of A. Einstein is a slice-of-life play, taking place on the great physicist’s birthday. He is supposed to be holding a press conference—but he is somehow unavoidably detained, so Ellen has to stand in for him.
“Einstein was a celebrity then,” Mersky said. “People hid in the bushes to get photos of him—like modern-day paparazzi.”
The play covers Ellen’s long association with the Einstein family, including how she came to meet the great man. Most importantly, she talks about his extraordinary research that changed our perception of the universe. Ellen also perfected the art of answering and evading questions—often better than the talking heads on today’s TV news.
“I always wanted to do a play about Einstein because of what he stood for,” Mersky said. “He was a complicated, great man who whose ethos and belief in the imagination helped shape science.”
How did the play finally come about? “It’s actually a play I have been working on for 15 to 20 years. I loosely based Ellen on the real secretary,” Mersky said.
I asked Mersky why Einstein remains such a popular figure today. “He is the world’s most famous refugee,” she said. “He is also known for all his humanitarian work. In 1933, he helped create the International Rescue Committee that, even to this day, is active. He will always be relevant.”
Mersky said she enjoyed creating a character who is strong yet funny. That description could apply to Mersky as well; she’s a Los Angeles-based actress who has enjoyed visiting the valley over the years. Her acting credits include Revenge of the Nerds and the Charlie’s Angels TV series. She even appeared on the legendary yet short-lived The Richard Pryor Show.
The Life and Times of A. Einstein is just one of CV Rep’s varied summer offerings, which include other one-person plays—including The Year of Magical Thinking, starring Linda Purl and based on Joan Didion’s riveting memoir; that takes place Aug. 11-13.
CV Rep is also hosting various musical performances. One Tuesday per month, “Jazz at the Rep” will spotlight various talented musicians. If jazz is not your thing, CV Rep’s summer offerings also include a Cabaret Series and a Classical Music Series.
The Life and Times of A. Einstein takes place at 7 p.m., Friday, July 21 and 22; and 2 p.m., Sunday, July 23, at the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, at 69930 Highway 111, Suite 116, in Rancho Mirage. Tickets are $30. For tickets, more information and a complete schedule of summer offerings, call 760-296-2966, or visit cvrep.org.