For a consummate actor like Ustad Naseeruddin Shah, Motley’s solo Einstein should not have caused great pains in the preparation. Let me take the musical analogy of Ustadship further. In Hindustani classical, it does not extend an Ustad much to play a raga for under an hour; his true mettle emerges when his improvisatory originality stretches for twice as long or more, weaving every possible strain of melody permissible within the parameters of that raga, and that, too, creatively, innovatively, so that after the fullest exposition, a connoisseur has witnessed such an exquisite musical filigree that he feels the Ustad has exhausted the raga’s possibilities.
I never got that feeling with Naseeruddin’s Einstein. Gabriel Emanuel’s sketch of 75 minutes barely skims the life of one of humanity’s foremost geniuses. It does not challenge Naseeruddin. I do not expect Richard Wilson’s monumental four-hour Einstein on the Beach – the great Einstein play – because Wilson approaches Einstein’s work non-rationally, in slow motion (paralleling the relativity of time) to Philip Glass’s repetitive score (deliberately mathematical music). But, as a monologue, Ed Metzger’s Albert Einstein in two acts sounds more complete (and the only drama approved by Einstein’s family), encompassing more material, though still unavailable in print. Theatre and cinema may never capture anyone’s biography satisfactorily within two hours, but that extra hour allows one to do more justice to such a personality.
Emanuel’s Einstein, at the age of 70, reminisces on key moments of his life and career, certainly educational for those who know nothing about him. Naseeruddin’s Method-School style produces a realistic, look-alike portrayal, enhanced by a sustained German-accented English and propped up by Shruti Gupta’s chunky wooden set of his cluttered study (a screen for photo projections the only exception). Following the script, he breaks the fourth wall, asking for spectator volunteers to illustrate how gravity bends space, simultaneously flirting with the lady, “You remind me of my first wife.” But the show is in fact highly serious, repeating the pacifist Einstein’s abhorrence for the application of his theories into atom bombs, and ends with an image of the Marshall Islands mushroom cloud of 1954.
Could Naseeruddin improve this production without changing the text? I suggest that he interposes or directs a second playlet after an intermission, in which he dramatizes the Einstein-Tagore conversation, one of the most fascinating and stimulating dialogues of all time. Such a programme could provide a more complex perspective.
(From The Telegraph, 12 March 2016)