The LA Weekly
In a piece that could be just as accurately titled Waiting for Einstein, the legendary scientist's secretary, Ellen Schöenhammer (Kres Mersky, who also wrote the play), keeps at bay a "press corps" waiting for the genius on his birthday. While delivering a steady stream of apologies for his lateness, Ellen buzzes about Einstein's Princeton, New Jersey study-- with its hand-carved mahogany accents, floral motifs, and ubiquitous shades of brown -- making final preparations for the party. She is at times interrupted by the telephone, on the other end of which is Anna, the incompetent hired help who frustrates the long-serving Ellen. Her description of this frustration is the first of many fingers from the past that poke out of Ellen's psychological space-time continuum. During these interludes she relates how she first came to work for Einstein and his wife, describing life in Weimar Berlin, how the German public received his theories, and even her secret attraction to the man. A veteran of stage and screen, Mersky nails both the Germanic tongue and dry sense of humor, and in weaving her self-admittedly simplistic interpretation of Einstein's theories into her storytelling, she makes us forget that we are waiting for the man himself. Director Paul Gersten keeps Mersky moving about the stage with an industry that lives up to the Germanic stereotype; he also handles time-jumps with subtlety. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 16. (323) 851-7977. http://www.theatrewest.org (Mayank Keshaviah)
Don Grigware Talks Theatre
5 OUT OF 5 STARS
It is no small feat to recreate a genius and even more challenging to fashion the man's personal assistant, the woman who ran his life, especially when so little is known about her. Nonetheless, Kres Mersky has achieved a comedic & dramatic tour de force with her solo play The Life and Times of A. Einstein.
Alone to fend off the press, Ellen Schoenhammer, a German Jewish woman who is loyal to a fault and definitely a no nonsense task master, manages quite well to entertain while she excuses Professor Einstein's tardiness from his prior symposiums.
As a writer, Mersky makes the secretary's statements terribly funny, and as an actress conveys them with a sparkling caustic wit. She warns members of the press not to ask him to explain that (of course, referring to his Theory of Relativity), and then matter of factly concludes: "He'll tell you anyway!" She denies understanding much of it and then offers a layman's view that is at once understatedly sensible and undeniably amusing.
There are three conferences, covering a period of over twenty years in the life of this woman. Einstein, of course, is only present in spirit. The last, in 1955, is the most poignant, as Schoenhammer announces Einstein's passing. She never has to tell us about how rewarding her life has been. It shows in her every gesture, facial expression and the manner in which she simply talks about her boss - his face, his big toes (barefoot in sandals), his handling of her when she challenges his theory of light: "Ellen, you need a vacation!" and his insecurity with his inconclusive United Field Theory: "Am I a fool?" We come to know Einstein through Ellen's bright gleaming eyes and intense adoration.
Mersky's performance, under Paul Gersten's perfectly paced direction, simply glows with warmth and sincerity, laced with an abundance of charm ...and love. She makes us see how much this sturdy woman loved her job - and the man himself. "Not the Lord, but he may be the closest thing to it!"
You need not have a passion for science or even Einstein, but if you want to witness how one human being can be thoroughly devoted to another, then you do not want to miss The Life and Times of A. Einstein or Kres Mersky's outstandingly meticulous performance.
On Stage LA - Michael Sheehan
We call women who act ‘actors’ now. We used to call really good actresses ‘actors’ as a compliment. Kres Mersky is truly an actor who brings her “The Life and Times of A. Einstein” to the Theatre West stage triumphantly. Her career as an actor blossoms the way a fine wine caresses the palate and the warmth of a summer’s day lingers in the twilight.
Over the years Kres has done versions of her one woman masterpiece and it has only gotten better with time. Having first seen her at the Taper, Too several years ago, it was refreshing to see that time has been good to her.. she’s still playing beyond her age in years. As Einstein’s loyal secretary, Ellen Schoenhammer.. (“beautiful hammer” in German), she greets members of the press (the assembled theatre audience) who have come to interview The Professor on the occasion of his birthday. Ellen vamps as Einstein is not in residence and Anna, the new housekeeper has screwed up the cake order.
We segue in time as Ellen’s tenure in Einstein’s employ advances from ten to seventeen to twenty-seven years. Her final scene is poignant and dignified.
Mersky commands the stage with angst and good humor as time after time she has to make excuses for her employer's absence. As time goes by, we learn that she has absorbed some of Einstein’s theories and with a wry smile explains them… sort of. She charms us as she explains how she met the great man and was awarded her job where they met standing by a lake in Germany… Einstein in sandals… Ellen with a gun… She is mesmerized by the scientist’s toes!
A family affair, Mersky's husband, Paul Gertson, directs. The beats and pauses are flawless. Yancey Dunham’s simple lighting subtly sustains the mood on an uncredited set.
The ninety minute show rolls smoothly from start to finish with the ebb and flow of silly moments and serious. Mersky’s professional sense of timing surprises us with her efficiency as a secretary. She draws us into this affable character whom she has created from the wonderfulness of her vivid imagination. This is a tour de force performance that lovers of theatre and even lovers of science should put at the top of their list of evenings for pure entertainment.
When Ellen Schoenhammer, Einstein's secretary, steps on stage, she begins talking directly to you. It is then that you realize that you are, as is the rest of the audience, playing the part of "the press" to whom Ellen will speak to for the duration of the play.
Einstein's secretary will, for just over an hour, take you on a memory trip through her 27 years of service to the man whom she calls (I paraphrase) "perhaps the greatest Jew since Jesus."
Ellen's task is to keep "the press" happy while it waits for Professor Einstein to show up for a scheduled conference. With that in mind, the secretary talks non-stop delivering a discourse full of humor and of interesting details about the famous scientist. She ends up providing her own hilarious take on the Theory of Relativity.
The setting is the home in Princeton, New Jersey, where she moved with the Einsteins in 1933. She time-jumps three times - beginning on her ninth year of service to the scientist, moving on to her 17th year with the family, and ending on April 18, 1955 - the day Albert Einstein passed away.
When the play is over you will fancy you know Albert Einstein better. Likewise, you will be in admiration of the type of loyalty and feeling that kept the real secretary, Helene Dukas, administering Einstein's life for almost three decades and his literary affairs until the day of her own death in 1982.
It is an outstanding performance by Los Angeles' actress and playwright Kres Merksy, in this play directed by her husband Paul Gersten, which you should not miss.