Kres Mersky is captivating as Einstein's devoted secretary

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BY JACKIE HOUCHIN

Kres Mersky’s one-woman play, “THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A. EINSTEIN” currently playing at Theatre West is charming, captivating and moving.

It’s not a flashy show; it doesn’t shock or astound. Instead it invites the audience to walk alongside a life and learn.

The play will perhaps appeal to women more than men (although there’s nothing frothy about it). Adults, romantics and history buffs will especially appreciate how Mersksy brings her character to life, and in doing so gives us a glimpse of the great scientist, or “Professor” as she calls him.

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Mersky plays a character that few of us have heard of or even thought about, Ellen Schoenhammer, secretary, driver and one-time bodyguard to the famous Albert Einstein. The play opens in 1934, just after the Einsteins have fled Nazi Germany and settled in Princeton, New Jersey. It’s his birthday and a group of reporters have gathered in the living room to interview him. Mersky addresses the audience as if we were that Press Corps.

Nervous at first, because the great man is late in arriving (a trait of genius?), Ellen quickly finds her stride, her role of secretary and protector. She lays the ground rules and answers a few general questions. “Yes, he’s leaning to speak English. He learns quickly; he’s a smart guy! But please make your questions simple so he can understand.”

“The theory of relativity? He will explain if there is time. Me? I don’t understand it. Well… perhaps a brief explanation.” What follows is her simplified and very funny version, and then a stern, “No, do not write that down!”

As the wait time lengthens, Ellen scolds the new maid (via the phone) then explains how the foolish girl was hired. This segues in to her memories of Berlin and her own “audition” for the job nine years earlier. The description of her first breathless glimpse of “the Man” reveals long held feelings of admiration and perhaps more.

Time passes, and again The Press gather to question the famous prize winner about a Symposium he is attending. This time, after explaining again that the great man “will arrive at any moment,” she attempts to explain his theories on Time and Space. Giving that up, she lapses into a series of amusing and touching anecdotes.

Years later, it’s almost as if the Secretary and the Press Corps are now intimate friends. She hardly needs to remind them about questions or excuse the Professor’s absence. She tells about the 4-year old Albert who is given a compass and observes magnetism for the first time, and about his letter to President Roosevelt stating, “America must have the bomb first. Hitler must be stopped.” His reply when she tells him about its disastrous use is understated and very funny.

Einstein’s illness and death and her tribute to the man she loved and assisted for twenty-seven years is a poignant but triumphant ending to the play. “He sat on God’s shoulder. He felt God’s breath.”

As the playwright as well as the performer, Mersky presents Ellen’s life with Einstein, the passing years, the memories, the ambiance, and the personal emotions seamlessly. She takes us to that place, that time, and lets us live it with her. Brava!

“THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A. EINSTEIN” plays Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through May 16. Admission is $18-$20 with varying discounts for seniors, current military and students. For reservations, call (323) 851-7977 or visit www.theatrewest.org

Theatre West is located at 333 Cahuenga Blvd West, Los Angeles, CA 90068 (near No. Hollywood, Universal City and Studio City. FREE parking in the lot across the street.

Jackie Houchin is a freelance theater reviewer, covering plays, musicals and readings for the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys. She also reviews books for several mystery magazines and writes articles for a local biweekly newspaper.  www.jackiehouchin.com

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.