Though, perhaps I should have been outside on Sunday, I had the opportunity to visit Heller Theatre, 5328 S. Wheeling. I arrived at 2pm to catch the matinee showing of Dancing on Air by William Borden, the winner of Heller's 2007 Original Play Contest.
Dancing on Air can be described as a chance meeting of physics giant Albert Einstein and fiction writer Franz Kafka. The ensuing dialogue is the main shtick of the show. It is the dialogue of two polar opposites, the dichotomy of an optimistic scientist and a pessimistic artist working together to make some sense of this fateful rendezvous.
Albert Einstein, the first to appear on stage, was portrayed by David Gray. Gray's Einstein was animated, lovable, and a bit lecherous. He wore a light brown Princeton sweatshirt, gray pants and light brown converse all-stars. Of course, the trademark white 'stache and disheveled white hair completed the look.
Franz Kafka, played by Adrian Alexander, was dressed in a conservative business suit. His cool, calm demeanor and dry humor was an effective contrast, physically and figuratively, to Einstein's somewhat liberal persona.
The set design of Dancing on Air was sparse; as stated before, the true star of this play was the dialogue. Situated around the stage was a red seesaw, a coat hanger, three large cubes painted as dice, a tricycle, a hanging door and a mock castle tower with a ladder, a reference to Kafka's The Castle, I'm sure. Painted on the floor was a clock set at 2pm. At one point, Einstein produced a stick of yellow chalk which he used to scribble equations on the floor.
These props served the purpose of adding humor and poignancy to the conversation. A meeting of the minds such as this was can resemble a playground. The ideas being bounced off of one another at times seemed like child's play, and it was entertaining to see Kafka and Einstein discuss the theory of relativity, space-time continuum, and women while alternately bobbing up and down on the red seesaw.
So what would happen if Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein were brought together cosmically under one roof? Well, the conversation between the two would probably blow your mind. Having never taken a physics class, I have always been interested in the ideas behind the science, but I was intimidated by the mathematical operations required to express it. Having said that, I realize now that the underlying message of physics concerns the nature of reality. The math stuff is just a means of explaining something that is highly abstract and so much larger than us.
Borden's take on the subject is twinged with subtle humor. The concepts of physics can be taken to the level of absurdity, and the actors' delivery successfully created that sort-of whirlwind effect.
The rhythmic banter of Einstein and Kafka playing off each other allowed me to forget the fact that I was watching a play. It was the honest dialogue of two men discussing the nature of life.
Themes of life, death, existence, time and space ebbed and flowed throughout the heady dialogue. To me, it can be exhausting to listen to two men go on and on, circling themselves into oblivion with their thoughts and words. At one point, Kafka, fell to the floor as a result from attempting to wrap his mind around the space-time continuum.
What worked about the dialogue between Einstein and Kafka were their opposing viewpoints and personalities. From Einstein's viewpoint, everything was possible. Kafka had a tendency to impose limits on Einstein's possibilities, yet that kept Einstein grounded, which allowed for a steady, continuous flow of ideas.
Of course, there were interruptions. "Felice," Kafka's twice engaged, scorned lover, was played by Deborah Bosworth Campbell. She appeared with a suitcase full of the letters that Kafka sent her over the years. Felice basically confronted Kafka about his self-absorbed nature, and the love that was lost between them. This was an interesting turn of events, considering the sexually objective talk of past lovers and young women by Einstein!
Apparently, Einstein's genius was rewarded with groupies.
Another addition to the cast was "Old Guy" played by Michael Massey. Old Guy pushed a broom around, smudging Einstein's yellow chalk-thoughts across the floor. Einstein and Kafka, increasingly interested in Old Guys' purpose, began to chase the poor broom pusher around the stage in elliptical paths! Finally, Old Guy reveals everything. He doesn't say much about his past, or who he is for that matter. He is simply there to "clean up the mess."
Existentialism is a fascinating subject. Why are we here? What is the meaning of it all? Do we just exist, here one minute, gone the next? Or is there a purpose behind everything? Does everything really happen for a reason?
There truly are endless questions and concerns. The rabbit hole is tricky because it is very possible to venture too far inside and lose your way. What I liked about Old Guy is that he was a dose of reality. It certainly is stimulating and thought-provoking to ponder our existence and purpose. However, each person has their day-to-day stuff to deal with. Taking care of everyday responsibilities is a natural way to resolve all those unanswered questions about our purpose.
At the end of the play, Einstein and Kafka sing "Hava Nagilah" and dance around in a circle. This is a humorous acknowledgment of the Jewish heritage shared by both men.
Dancing on Air ends on the note that neither Einstein nor Kafka has resolved any of their answers. The play was an inside look behind the personae of these two cultural icons, men we know by name but not as people. The show continues this weekend, Feb. 8-9 at 8pm and Feb. 10 at 2pm. Tickets are $8. For more, go to www.hellertheatre.com.
Share this article: