Dundas Little Theatre’s latest production, is Canadian playwright Vern Thessien’s 2003 drama, Einstein’s Gift. It is a thoughtful “memory play”, full of ideas about science and morality, and explores the fraught relationship, between Albert Einstein and the lesser-known 1918 Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry, Fritz Haber, a German Jew, who converts to Christianity, in order to advance his career. His research was used to develop Chlorine gas as a weapon during the First World War. In fact, he was himself, an active serving military officer, and was present, turning on the taps himself, when poison gas was first used, in warfare, deployed against Canadian troops, at the Second Battle of Ypres, in 1915.
Haber held prestigious academic positions in the 1920s, but after his death in 1934, he was denounced in Germany, with rise of National Socialism. He was the co–inventor of the Haber–Bosch process, used to make ammonia, which revolutionized the production of agricultural fertilizer. This invention, helped to prevent the starvation of millions of people. However, in one of the great ironies of his career, this same research was later used to create “Zyklon B”, the gas used to murder millions of Jews, communists, homosexuals and the disabled, during the “holocaust” in Nazi concentration camps. This was certainly a perversion of the ideals, that led to such an important scientific discovery.
Playwright Thiessen, has won many awards, including the Governor General’s Award for Drama, for this play. Some of his other scripts are, Lenin’s Embalmers, Vimy, and an adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s novel, Of Human Bondage, which was produced by Soulpepper Theatre. He grew up in Winnipeg, and was active for years, in Edmonton’s theatre community where he was the former Artistic Director of Workshop West Theatre. He currently lives in New York City.
Playing the leading role of Fritz Haber, is Ramzey Zourob, a local actor, whose performance I first admired in Stephen Near’s play Your Own Sons, a powerful drama about young Canadians going overseas to join terrorist groups, such as ISIS. I first caught the play, as part of the 2016 Hamilton Fringe, and then also saw, a well reviewed remount, at the Pearl Company Theatre in 2018. Zaroub, was a key part of the play’s success, playing the central role of “Yusuf”, in both versions.
“2016, was the year things started to come together for me as an actor. I had taken a voiceover workshop in Toronto, started singing lessons with my good friend Tom Oliver, and was referred to Stephen Near by my friend, Paula Grove. I remember thanking Stephen, and director Aaron Joel Craig, for taking a chance on someone who was unproven, and virtually unknown in the local theatre community.”
Three years on, Zourob, has earned much admiration for acting performances as part of the Hamilton Fringe, and in HamilTEN, and he is finally getting the golden opportunity, to take centre stage, playing a leading role, in a much larger venue.
“High school, was where I found my love for acting. The Canadian play Seven Stories by Morris Panych, was the first play I acted in. I went to Cathedral High School, on Wentworth Street, and my drama teacher was Deborah Raposo. We were in the Sears Drama Festival, but we never advanced beyond the local level. I did get a Distinctive Acting Merit award one year. I wanted to throw myself into that world completely, but I didn’t quite get the blessing from my family that I was hoping for. So, I made the decision to choose something a bit more... “practical”. But the desire to be an actor in some form never went away. I tried so hard to push it down, to forget about it, and convince myself that it couldn’t happen, but it just wouldn’t die. I’m first generation Canadian. My parents are Jordanian, but I was born here in Hamilton.”
It is sometimes hard to find community theatres who are willing to do culturally diverse casting, particularly for straight plays. It seems much more common in musical theatre, and while it is getting better, seeing a person of colour, on a local stage is still fairly rare experience.
Directed by Ryan Trepanier, the cast of DLT’s production of Einstein’s Gift, includes Greg Flis, Nan Chen, Christine Marchetti, Rebecca Durance Hine, Nicholas Ruddick and Peter Lloyd. I asked Zaroub about, what he enjoyed the most, so far, about working with Dundas Little Theatre, on this new production.
“Thessien’s play is told from the perspective of Albert Einstein. Speaking directly to the audience, he recounts the story of his friend Dr. Fritz Haber. The two scientists argue about the role of the scientist; Einstein believing that science is for science’s sake, while Haber believing that it must serve a practical application. Following along those beliefs, we see the path that he takes and the consequences that result, from that choice. I have found Haber to be a very interesting character to play, with qualities that many people would find unappealing, his blind ambition, and arrogance for example. But he is fiercely loyal to Germany, a country that doesn’t accept him for who he is, in spite of everything that he does for it. Some will look at his deeds and weigh them one way, some another. That is what makes the show interesting.”
Einstein’s Gift was first produced in 2003, at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. It has been revived many times over the years since all over Europe and North America, by both large professional companies, it ran Off Broadway in New York, and small community ones. The morality the play explores, about science being in service to humanity, is still a big issue to this day, as we see the developing technologies behind drones, and robot soldiers becoming the way nations will fight each other in the years to come.
“I think that Thessien’s play remains relevant, because the morality of technological advancement is a question, with which we still struggle. There’s no doubt that we owe much to technology, but it has frequently been developed and used, well before we’ve had any meaningful discussion about the effects its implementation, will have. We either haven’t figured out how to have that discussion or haven’t wanted to.”
Local audiences, will thus have much to think about after seeing the production.
“I have enjoyed every moment, spent working with this incredible cast and crew. They’re such a warm and welcoming group. Everyone, has worked so hard to make this show successful. The only thing I would want to add, is how wonderful and supportive everyone I’ve met in the Hamilton theatre community has been, since I’ve been a part of it. There has been no barrier to entry and acceptance. It’s been better than I could have ever possibly hoped.”
The play opens this Friday evening out in Dundas, at the Garstin Centre for the Arts. V
By Vern Thessien
Presented by Dundas Little Theatre
At the Garstin Centre for the Arts
30 Market Street, Dundas
October 25, 26,
November 1, 2, 7, 8, 9 at 8:00 p.m.
November 3 and 10 at 2:00 p.m.