To call Albert Einstein “one-of-kind” would be an understatement. His scientific discoveries revolutionized theoretical physics and led Time Magazine to dub him “Person of the Century” for the 1900s. Tackling such an icon could be a rather daunting task for an actor.
Thankfully, David Edwards, who stars in FST’s Rolling World Premiere of Deborah Brevoort’s My Lord, What A Night, is more than capable of stepping into Einstein’s shoes.
An accomplished actor, Edwards has appeared in numerous Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regional theatre productions. He starred in the Off-Broadway production of The Fantasticks, as well as the original U.S. national tour of the record-breaking Tony Award-winning musical, The Producers. He has even graced FST’s Keating Theatre before, way back in FST’s 2002 production of the musical No Way To Treat A Lady.
We sat down with Edwards to learn more about returning to Sarasota’s Contemporary Theatre and his approach to bringing one of history’s most famous minds back to life.
In My Lord, What A Night, you portray the one-and-only Professor Albert Einstein. How do you approach embodying him?
First of all, I don’t think I could understand much about Einstein’s work. Physics and Mathematics were hardly my favorite subjects at school. But when playing any character, I want to fill in their behavior and emotional life. I did a bit of research on his personal life and found out a great deal about his passions, his beliefs, and the personal experiences that shaped who he was. There was a great deal of sacrifice because of his passion for his work and it seems the relationships with his family suffered because his work came first and foremost.
Tell us more about Einstein in My Lord, What A Night. How does he fit into the play’s narrative about famed singer Marian Anderson?
Einstein experienced prejudice all his life. His strongest desire was to pursue his studies, and he had to flee discrimination in order to do so. He understands Marian Anderson’s desire to practice her art without having the burden of being a role model, but he also recognizes the responsibility that comes with fame. Anderson and Einstein have seemingly very little in common at first, but as the play continues, it becomes clear they are truly a great match for a lifelong friendship. Their relationship feels like a plea to find common ground, and to celebrate what makes human beings alike instead of widening their differences.
Was there anything you learned about Einstein that surprised you while you were preparing to take on this role? How did this discovery inform your performance as Einstein?
I did not know that, by the time of the action of the play, most of Einstein’s great “discoveries” were behind him. He felt very vulnerable that he was not living up to the University’s expectations, and his passion for human rights was a new outlet for him. He didn’t suffer fools gladly, but he continued to grow and evolve as he got older. He was also extremely compassionate, charismatic, and brave.
Professor Einstein’s real-life friendship with singer Marian Anderson is at the heart of this show. How do you and your co-star, Thursday Farrar, re-create such a special friendship onstage?
Well first of all, we were lucky! Chemistry onstage and off is either there or it’s not. I think we hit it off right from the start and had many professional experiences and relationships in common. When you work closely with other actors, especially when you are away from home, you become a little like a family. When the show closes, you don’t always see each other very much anymore, but if the bond is solid, you just pick up where you left off the next time you meet.
You were last seen at FST almost twenty years ago. What has it been like to return to Sarasota after so long? How has it changed? What has stayed the same?
Your feelings about a place are very much related to the work you are doing at the time, your age, and stage of life. Both My Lord, What A Night and the show I did here before, No Way To Treat A Lady, have both been very rewarding experiences, so Sarasota will always be a place filled with good memories. I do notice big changes in the city itself though. Lots more tall buildings and modern condos. And FST has a much larger campus and makes an even greater impact in the community. Bravo!
Florida Studio Theatre is the final stop in My Lord, What A Night’s Rolling World Premiere journey. Does that premiere status create challenges for you as an actor? Does it create any opportunities?
It is a great responsibility and a great honor to “create” a role. You have an opportunity to put your stamp on a role for every actor who plays it in the future. However, there is no blueprint to follow from past productions, which is very liberating but also a little scary. But whether it is a new play or a familiar one, there are always new professional relationships forged. Work begets work and I have learned never to expect an opportunity to lead you somewhere. That will only lead to disappointment. You always learn lessons with every new job, but the lessons you think you will learn are rarely the ones you do learn.
My Lord, What a Night by Deborah Brevoort is now playing in FST’s Keating Theatre through August 15, 2021. Part of the Rolling World Premiere with the National New Play Network. For tickets or more information, click here.