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Review: North Coast Rep’s ‘Einstein Comes Through’ a mystery that leaves questions

Jake Broder in North Coast Repertory Theatre's "Einstein Comes Through."
Jake Broder plays Hank in North Coast Repertory Theatre’s filmed production of “Einstein Comes Through.”
(Courtesy of Aaron Rumley)

Filmed play available for online streaming through May 23

North Coast Repertory Theatre’s latest filmed play, “Einstein Comes Through,” is a hard one to classify. It’s an absurdist comedy, a tragedy, a mystery and a science lesson all rolled into one.

As a result, following the story as it hops confusingly between multiple plot threads and genres can be challenging during the one-hour, one-man play. But the strong, shape-shifting performance by actor Jake Broder helps smooth out some of the script’s flaws.

Co-written by Marc Silver and North Coast’s artistic director David Ellenstein, “Einstein” made its world premiere at North Coast Rep in 2005. It returns this month in a new production directed by Ellenstein that looks sharp, but its script still needs work.

Jake Broder stars in North Coast Repertory Theatre's "Einstein Comes Through."
Jake Broder plays Albert Einstein in North Coast Repertory Theatre’s filmed play “Einstein Comes Through.”
(Courtesy of Aaron Rumley)

Broder plays Hank, an accountant-turned-actor who dresses up as Albert Einstein for a science education show he performs at elementary schools. But from the moment Hank wakes up to a ringing alarm clock at the beginning of the play, he isn’t sure who he is, where he is and whether he’s awake, dreaming or hallucinating. Marty Burnett’s surrealistic scenic design adds to the mystery, with hidden surprises tucked all over Hank’s apartment.

Talking aloud to himself, Hank tries to recall the reasons he has quit his acting job, locked himself in his apartment, been abandoned by his wife and stopped talking to his 6-year-old son. Meanwhile, alarm clocks all over his apartment go off every few minutes, jarring him awake or into a new reality where he might be blowing his nose with a slice of bread, using a stick of butter as anti-perspirant or staring out his kitchen window at an atomic bomb blast.

But Hank’s not alone in the apartment. His alter-ego, Einstein, keeps showing up to share science facts, tell the audience bits of Hank’s backstory and encourage Hank with some spirited pep talks. Einstein says Hank has been conducting an “escape velocity” experiment, and if he doesn’t snap out of the funk he’s in, he’ll vanish.

Broder plays Hank as frantic, confused and morose, while his Einstein is a light-hearted, kooky cut-up, who stops the action several times to do standup bits of dated Borscht Belt comedy.

I love a good mystery, but I found the through-line of “Einstein Comes Through” almost hopelessly convoluted. The script needs fewer Einstein facts and standup comedy and a lot more of a lucid and more-subdued Hank helping the audience understand and invest in what’s happening onstage.

Aaron Rumley filmed and edited the show, Elisa Benzoni designed the costumes, Philip Korth designed props and Peter Herman made the Einstein wig.

“Einstein Comes Through” is streaming on demand through May 23. Tickets are $35 to $54 and can be purchased at northcoastrep.org.

— Pam Kragen is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune


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