REVIEW: SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE
and other songs at the Aurora Fox Arts Center
by Mona Lott
A genius scientist and a dazzling opera singer may not add up to any theory of relativity, but in Marc Acito’s play, Secrets Of The Universe and Other Songs currently playing at The Aurora Fox, the sum of all it’s parts easily equals a brilliant evening of thought provoking theater.
Marian Anderson was an accomplished opera singer and in 1943 she performed a concert at Princeton, where the renowned scientist and acclaimed genius, Albert Einstein happened to teach. Anderson was invited to stay with Einstein when she was denied a hotel stay because she was not caucasian and their subsequent friendship was formed. Acito’s play is the imagined conversations that transpired from this factual pairing.
Aurora Fox’s Executive Producer, Helen R. Murray is at the helm, skillfully directing the production and leading a gifted cast and consummate team of designers through the surreal moments that interrupt the action in ways that only Einstein’s own theory of special relations can explain. Space and time are linked for objects that are moving at a consistent speed in a straight line and Acito seems to be equating haunting memories with the possibility that two things can be occupying the same space but at two different speeds and different times in history. It’s all rather confusing to non geniuses but Acito’s writing is crisp, natural and pragmatic, skillfully giving a crash course in physics with charm and great humor.
The scenic design by Brandon Phillip Case is imposing upon entering the theater, but creatively formable within the production and integrating effortlessly with both the light and sound design. Case with Lighting Designer, Seth Allison and Sound design, CeCe Smith manages to collaborate in a seamless way. The sound is so subtle and adds so much to the action that it wasn’t even a realization that it was part of the lovely lighting design expertly utilizing projections that for once actually add to the story in an organic union.
The cast excels, led in part by Jordan Leigh in a skillful, charming and spot on portrayal that brings to life the comical, absent minded Einstein while still managing to hold on to the man’s gravitas and significant importance. Leigh’s performance is well rounded and so believable that it’s somewhat shocking to see him standing in his own persona during the curtain call.
Mary Louise Lee as Marian Anderson manages to hold her own against Leigh’s Einstein, but with noticeably less skill. What she lacks in her honesty and somewhat stilted presence she makes up for when she opens her mouth to sing during short moments of music. Her control and tone beg to be given more of an opportunity to shine but it is that desire itself that may be the most prevalent failure in the show.
Secrets of the Universe seems to be caught in between genres and it’s a bit jarring. A play with music seems to use songs in a much more organic way, but here it clashes and disrupts somewhat awkwardly,and even has the cast oddly singing with rhythmic gymnast ribbons and lame choreography. Somewhere the script has taken SOTU too far past the “play with music” stage and not far enough to justify it’s somewhat clumsy attempts at musical theater. Perhaps Acito will collaborate with a composer and go full fledge musical with his script.
Rounding out the cast in a multitude of smaller roles are Andrew Fischer, Mark Rubald and Sharon Kay White supporting the lead characters with a solid foundation. Most successful is White as Helen, Einsteins weary, no nonsense housekeeper and assistant.
Genius may be applied to famed scientist Einstein, but with great technical skill and enviable talent, Marc Acito’s play, Secrets of The Universe and other songs, now playing at The Aurora Fox proves to be just as smart and genius theater in itself.