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Cinnabar Theatre, the man behind the genius


“Albert Einstein, in his writings, once mentioned a ‘thought experiment’ he had as a young boy,” explained Beth Craven, speaking last week about Trevor Allen’s wildly imaginative new play, “One Stone,” running Feb. 10 through Feb. 19 at Cinnabar Theater.

Craven, who is directing the show, talked about Einstein’s experience that paved the way for his theory of gravitational waves.

“Albert imagined a stone hitting the water, and recognized how it would send out a series of ripples all the way to the shore of the pond,” Craven said. “That gave him an idea about how one action causes another action, each one affecting the other, the first action reverberating out to the edges of infinity.”

The other reason for the title of the show, of course, is right there in Einstein’s name.

“Ein Stein, it’s German for one stone. A lot of people don’t notice that at first when they hear the title of the show. I didn’t even notice it right away, when I first got the script,” Craven said. “There are so many clever things buried in Trevor’s play, just hiding there, waiting to be discovered. That’s been a big part of the pleasure of working on this, figuring out how to take all of Trevor’s ideas — which, of course, are ways of describing Albert Einstein’s ideas — and putting them on the stage.”

Allen is a San Francisco-based performer and playwright who first sprung to attention with his one-man-show “Working for the Mouse,” about a stint on the payroll at Disneyland. Last year, his three-actor adaptation of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” called “The Creature,” was staged at Cinnabar. Now, Craven – artistic director of Sebastopol’s Main Stage West theater — is helming Allen’s latest work of fancy, which will feature actor Eric Thompson as Albert Einstein.

“Actually, it’s not Einstein he plays, so much as Einstein’s brain,” Craven said with a laugh. “ It’s a very funny show, but also a powerful show, using all kinds of metaphors, beginning, in a way, with that ripple in the water. The idea that a small action can lead to a much larger one is also a metaphor for how a tiny piece of uranium could eventually lead to the creation of the atomic bomb. That’s in the show, too. Pretty much every major idea Einstein had is in the show.”

With another laugh, Craven added, “ ‘One Stone” is definitely not an easy play to describe.”

Evidently, as it turns out, describing the show is roughly as simple as explaining Einstein’s theory of relativity, which, by the way, is very explained in “One Stone.” Doing so, of course, requires some very clever staging on the part of Craven, Thompson’s tour-de-force performance and some astonishing puppetry work, courtesy of puppeteer Sheila Devitt and the clever puppet creations of Michael Nelson, of Vallejo’s Magical Moonshine Theater Company.

“Michael has built three different puppets representing Albert Einstein,” explained Devitt, an actor and puppeteer who has worked with the award-winning puppet troupe Lunatique Fantastique.

Devitt described the many different types of puppetry employed in “One Stone.”

“The Albert Einstein puppets show Albert at different times in his life,” she said, describing how Thompson, as Einstein’s brain, conjures up memories of himself at different periods. “We also have shadow puppets, ‘found object’ puppets and some that were created especially for the show, which can best be described as ‘Monty Python’ puppets. Like cardboard cutouts with parts that move. They’re amazing, and so much fun to operate.”

Devitt said that working with Craven, Allen and Thompson to tell this story has been a rewarding challenge, one that she feels audiences will be dazzled by.

“Albert Einstein is such an iconic figure, but some people are intimidated by him, too, which is why puppetry is such a clever way to make his ideas accessible,” she said. “There is something about puppetry that allows the audience to use their imagination in a different way than when they are watching a traditional play or musical. The puppets really do come to life, and engage a different part of our brains. It’s magical, and a little creepy sometimes, and pretty amazing.”

Craven agrees.

“There’s something about watching inanimate objects behaving in animated ways,” she said, “that helps us make these wild imaginary leaps. That’s why it’s so perfect for a show like “One Stone.”

Laughing again, she said, “It’s been a leap of our own imaginations to put this on the stage. The script might say, ‘A little Japanese girl turns into an atom bomb,’ and we have to figure out how to do that. Or it might say, ‘Einstein appears on a motorcycle, racing at the speed of light, then crashes into an enormous wall of light.’ It’s been one of the most challenging things I’ve done in a long time. But it’s so unusual and one-of-a-kind,” she added, “I think people will be blown away. And also moved and inspired. ”

Sounds like Albert Einstein would approve.

(Contact David Templeton at argus@arguscourier.com)