“Einstein’s Gift” tells the story of the development of nerve gas in WWI by chemist Fritz Haber (Chris Saunders). The parade of world events between the wars marches on as Haber has an ongoing conversation with frenemy Albert Einstein (Guy F. Wicke) about the scientist’s responsibility to the applications of his inventions. They argue over the importance of pure versus applied science, which seems to stand in as the thin end of the wedge issue between them, even as it becomes increasingly clear that their argument is strictly academic. Scientific discoveries will be used for various applications, both civil and military, and today we’ve accepted this so thoroughly as to be arguing for the end of public support of general scientific discovery in favor of methods that assume use and applicability first.
The conversation, and therefore the play, follows Haber’s growth as a professor of chemistry in his native Germany, for which he renounces Judaism and is baptized. He develops, with the help of his wife Clara, a nitrogen fixer, which ultimately leads to the Nobel Prize, and the development of a chlorine gas used at the front in WWI.
For him, applications come later and are not the point of scientific discovery. Of course, Einstein’s both vindicated (conversion doesn’t cure Jewishness for the Nazi eye) and indicted as, in the end, his lofty notions do not prevent his own theories from being used to develop the atom bomb. Sorry if I’m spoiling anything.
“Einstein’s Gift” is a play about ideas and is at times fairly on-the-nose with its moralizing. But the story, of Haber’s brilliance, his inventions, his decline into careerism, his losses, and slow realization of his own obligations in the world, moves inexorably forward to make the point.
The cast on the whole did well with the material, though Einstein (Wicke) came off a bit more like Mark Twain in his soliloquizing. The dialogue was a bit hard to hear due to machine background noise. The production was otherwise a basic one-set with a few effective light and sound FX.
Without much need for adornment, this satisfying production takes the Athenaeum Theatre stage through August 28.
Presented by Genesis Theatrical Productions
Athenaeum Theatre 2936 N. Southport
Box Office: 773-935-6875
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