Taproot’s formulaic “Relativity” questions genius over goodness

“Relativity,” at Taproot Theatre, uses a fictional Albert Einstein to ruminate on the question: Does a genius deserve a pass for bad behavior?

The absent-minded genius with the shaggy nimbus of white hair, standing before a blackboard filled with equations. The brilliant eccentric, an inveterate violin player and bicycle rider.

In his new play “Relativity,” Mark St. Germain endeavors to get beyond our common (and cuddly) images of Albert Einstein. He wants to zoom in on this totemic physicist as a man, warts and all, and trigger a philosophical debate about greatness versus goodness.

Taproot Theatre’s staging of “Relativity” is the final installment of its national “rolling premiere” at several regional theaters. And like St. Germain’s widely-produced “Freud’s Last Session” (seen at Taproot in 2012), about the progenitor of modern psychology, this talky encounter with a 20th century mover and shaker is historical and speculative, scintillating and clunky, revealing and contrived.

Theater Review

‘Relativity’

By Mark St. Germain. Through Oct. 21 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle; $27-$47 (206-781-9707 or taproottheatre.org)

What “Relatively” does best, script-wise and in Scott Nolte’s well-paced mounting, is conjure a multidimensional Einstein. In Dennis Bateman’s capably shrewd and natural performance, he’s the mental giant behind the fundamental Theory of Relativity. (Or as every high school student learns, “Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.”) But he’s also an incorrigible flirt, a pampered and demanding Great Man, a sly and media-conscious wit – and, unsurprisingly, no ideal husband nor father.

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The framing for this portrait is fictional, and improbable. In 1949, while a professor at Princeton University, the 70-year old Einstein is accosted by an attractive younger woman — Margaret Harding (Candace Vance), who claims to be a journalist for a Jewish newspaper. Through flattery and rather obnoxious persistence, she is invited into his home on the spot for some tea and an interview.

But after Harding drops the eye-batting deference and the Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations stream of Einstein sayings, she bombards him with leading questions about his personal past — to the point where he asks, “Is this an interview or an interrogation?”

Interrogation it is, and…

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