Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn
milwaukeesfs

Einstein and I

"Not Doctor Albert Einstein--Doctor Herman Einstein." That's how the murderous Jonathan Brewster introduces his accomplice to Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha in the classic black comedy, "Arsenic and Old Lace." Tomorrow night, October 5th, the West Allis Players open their new production, and I am playing the role of Dr. Einstein.

Working on the show, I've found Einstein to be an interesting character. On the one hand, I've always been more of a "technical" actor than a "method" actor, although I have frequently found Stanislavsky useful, and it's been an interesting exercise working out how Einstein reacts to what's going on.

The dynamic of the play lies in Mortimer Brewster's discovery that his (mostly) sane and comfortable life is based on a foundation of madness. Brother Teddy's fantastical delusion that he is President Theodore Roosevelt, while somehow simultaneously living in Brooklyn with two aunts, is being exploited by those same aunts in pursuit of their lethal monomania. Then, enter other brother Jonathan Brewster, a sadistic psychopath with an explosive personality disorder related to his recent badly done plastic surgery.

Einstein lives on the cusp between the sane and the insane worlds. Although an alcoholic and a criminal, the author puts him in the not-technically-crazy group when Einstein says that he would not go "to the same place" as Jonathan if apprehended. Nevertheless, he is an enabler and accomplice to Jonathan's murders, keeping score and only seeming to object when they are badly planned (Mr. Spenalzo), or too drawn-out and gruesome ("the fellow in Melbourne").

I was interested to find that the character of Einstein is loosely based on a real person, "gangland" surgeon Joseph Moran. Moran was an Illinois doctor who lost most of his practice due to alcohol abuse, and then was found guilty of performing abortions. Once paroled, he was appointed the official physician for the Chicago Teamsters' Union, and made more underworld contacts, becoming the unofficial emergency doctor for Chicago mobsters. He performed face-changing plastic surgery on gangsters Fred Barker and Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, which was generally deemed a failure, although he was successful in obliterating fingerprints. Moran disappeared one night in Toledo, Ohio, after drunkenly boasting of how much he knew about the gang's criminal career. It is believed that Barker and Karpis took Moran on a one-way boat ride on Lake Erie, since Moran's body washed up at Crystal Beach, Ontario some months later.

Einstein and Jonathan Brewster are co-dependent. Einstein's surgery makes the continuation of Jonathan's criminal career possible; in return, Jonathan drums up business for Einstein and takes him as a partner in other enterprises, so he's the doctor's meal ticket. (Moran assisted the Barker-Karpis gang in laundering money and presumably took a cut.) By the time of the play things have gone bad for both of them, but Einstein has helped break Jonathan out of custody to on the run with him, apparently having no better idea what to do with himself. ("Chonny--we've been chased all over the world . . .!")

I'm very pleased to have this part, and be working with this cast. This is the fifth play I've done with director Dave Dombrowski, the others being "The Mousetrap," "Much Ado About Nothing," "Rehearsal for Murder," and "84 Charing Cross Road," and I was flattered when Dave contacted me to offer me the part. The cast members represent a sampling of my theatrical past as well, including Dave Jirik ("Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," and "Much Ado,) Pete Horn and Ashlee Hosbach ("84 Charing Cross Road"), Robin Stein ("Mousetrap,") and Jerry Proffitt ("Much Ado,") and Ruth Caves, who stage-managed "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and most of these other plays since. It's a pleasure to be working with all of them again, and to meet and work with those who are new to me.

Performances will be the 5th, 6th, 12th and 13th at 7:30PM at West Allis Central High School Auditorium, with a 2:00PM matinee on the 7th.

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Tags: theatre
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