Einstein and the Polar Bear: Of Books and Men

 

Einstein and the Polar Bear is an offbeat play filled with eccentric characters in a rural setting. Bill Allenson (Christian O’Brien) is a former author in a home in the quaint hamlet of Spider Lake. He runs a used book shop out of his home, so the living room is crammed wall to wall with hardcovers.One day, an attractive woman named Diane (Rachel Hanauer) arrives on Bill’s doorstep, claiming her car broke down. Meanwhile, there’s an escaped polar bear on the loose and a raging blizzard outside. O’Brien’s Bill is a man tortured by a tragedy in his past. Diane turns out to have a secret of her own.

The other people in Bill’s life include Andy (Terry Simpson), his elderly father, who is a haunted figure who suffered a stroke and rarely talks except to tell people about his meeting Einstein in Watch Hill, Rhode Island; Charlie (Christopher Verleger), a cheerful mailman and Bill’s friend; and Helen and Bobby Bullins (Jennifer Mensel and Mike Petrarca), a kind married couple.

O’Brien and Hanauer are appealing performers and have a pleasant chemistry together. They manage to reveal their emotions without overplaying. And as the likable Charlie, Christopher Verleger displays sharp comic timing and is utterly charming.

Sandy Cerel’s direction is competent and playwright Tom Griffin’s dialogue is frequently witty.

The problem I had with the show was the various story elements don’t really hold together. Griffin seems to be doing an homage to the Coen brothers’ classic Fargo, but the tone shifts awkwardly from absurdist comedy (the polar bear) to grim drama. Diane’s reasons for coming to Spider Lake don’t ring true. I won’t provide any spoilers, but when you reflect on her behavior throughout the story, it makes little sense. Einstein and the Polar Bear has its merits, but ultimately proves to be an unsatisfying experience.

Einstein and the Polar Bear runs through September 24 at Arctic Playhouse, 117 Washington St, West Warwick. For tickets, call 401-573-3443.

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