Doctors Jane and Alexander Review: A family album of father, daughter scientists/artists

The Alexander in the title is Dr. Alexander Wiener, a pioneering scientist in the use of blood to identify individuals in ways similar to fingerprints, and co-discoverer of the Rh factor in blood; he was also a composer. The Jane is Dr. Jane Einhorn, a research psychologist who studied friendship; she was also a painter. Jane was Alexander’s daughter.

They are also the grandfather and the mother of the playwright and director, Edward Einhorn, who makes himself a character in his play, “Doctors Jane and Alexander.”

“I wanted to write a play about Pop Pop Al,” Edward (Max Wolkowitz) tells his brother David (Maxwell Zener), using the family name for Dr. Wiener. “But I think mostly I’ve ended up writing a play about Mom.”

Actually “Doctors Jane and Alexander” comes off as less about either of these two potentially fascinating people — or their work or their relationship — than as the theatrical equivalent of Edward Einhorn’s family album.

As Einhorn explains in the digital progam – and Edward (Wolfowitz) explains on stage – the idea for the play began in 2005, when he started interviewing his mother shortly after she suffered a stroke. He had an idea he would use the interviews to help him write about his celebrated grandfather, but “it was also just a way to pass the time with her and find a subject of conversation that engaged/distracted us both.”

The supposedly verbatim transcripts of those interviews are performed on stage  between Edward and Jane (stand-out Alyssa Simon.) These are supplemented by Edward’s interviews with other relatives, in part to help him piece together the puzzle of his two family members, in part to hear their reactions to the play that Edward is putting together . These scenes are part of what Edward tells us on stage is an effort to use only “found texts” and actual interviews in the play. It’s not clear why the play needed to be verbatim theater. There are scenes with David arguing with Edward  about how verbatim  his play actually is.

Such exchanges are probably meant to be cleverly meta-theatrical, just as the fragmented, random-feeling structure of the play may be meant as a painstaking reflection of the way memory works, particularly in a stroke victim. But such choices help make the overall enterprise feel painfully self-conscious, as if the playwright, even after 15 years, is still too close to the material to do the work of selecting and synthesizing and clarifying for the audience.

And that’s too bad. In the 25 years that Edward Einhorn has been creating theater as playwright, director and founder of Untitled Theater Company # 61., he has brought a wide range of subjects to the stage, but the works I have especially appreciated, and that I think distinguish him as a dramatist, are those that bring intellectual  clarity to difficult concepts, particularly in science and economics, such as The Neurology of the Soul, and Money Lab.

It’s striking to me, then, how little we learn about the work that Dr. Wiener and Jane Einhorn did. The play does feature performances of songs that were composed by Alexander Wiener, and a display of paintings by Jane Einhorn. But the one solid scene showing Jane’s psychological experiments with schoolchildren just makes us hunger for more. There is one playful musical number attempting to illustrate Dr. Wiener’s work, but we mostly get jargon-filled summaries. It’s as if the playwright saw the science as not worth the time to explain fully…as being besides the point.  The main point is apparently supposed to be how Dr. Wiener’s fame and his accomplishments affected his daughter and his grandson emotionally.  This is arguably a missed opportunity.  At the very least, a more detailed, layman-friendly exegesis of Dr. Wiener’s work could have functioned as an explicit metaphor for what Edward is in effect doing as a character and as the author  – searching for identity, for what connects “blood relations.”

“Doctors Jane and Alexander” does contain some rich material. It’s poignant to see the infirm Jane talking with ample awareness about what’s happened to her.  “When I was young, I was always testing everyone. Now everyone is always testing me.”

A highlight is a letter that her father wrote to her when she had turned 18, interspersed with her reaction to it, and to him, years later, eg: “You measured things in terms of accomplishments. And you felt I could accomplish a lot. But I wanted you to measure things in terms of love.”

These are signs of enough good material to  be shaped into a cohesive, moving and enlightening work of theater. “Doctors Jane and Alexander” is not yet that piece, but It’s worth continuing to work on it. A suggestion: Somebody else besides Einhorn should direct the next iteration, somebody with some distance.

Doctors Jane and Alexander
HERE Arts
Written and Directed by Edward Einhorn
Choreographer: Patrice Miller Set Designer: Mike Mroch Costume Designer: Ramona Ponce Lighting Designer : Federico Restrepo Music Director: Richard Philbin
Cast Craig Anderson as Newsman, Doctor, others; Len Rella as Alexander; Yvonne Roen as Laura Wedic, Sophie, others;  Alyssa Simon as Jane; Max Wolkowitz as Edward; Ann Marie Yoo as Rose, Sally, others; Maxwell Zener as David.
Running time: 80 minutes
Tickets: $25
Doctors Jane and Alexander are on stage through February 15, 2020

 

 

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Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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