This post contains some SPOILERS about the musical.
Person A is traveling at a rate of three miles an hour. Person B is traveling in the opposite direction at two miles an hour. How long will it take them to meet? This is the question that Neil Bartram and Brian Hill asked in their musical, The Theory Of Relativity. This chamber musical explores the interconnectedness of our society and how small events can manifest in big ways. And, aside from the important missing variable of distance between Person A and Person B, there's not much else missing from this gem of a musical.
I watched a production of The Theory Of Relativity at Rider University in Central Jersey about a week ago. With no knowledge of what the show is about, I found myself deeply invested in everyone's stories. The director seemed to have taken a page from the Broadway musical Come From Away, utilizing a single set with a number of chairs that set the scenes and show the relationships between the characters. The result of this staging, along with some brilliant lighting cues and a fantastic band, is a beautifully touching story of interconnectivity.
In this musical, most characters start out completely unrelated. Each character gets a song or a monologue. It begins with some quirky characters telling their own stories: a boy who is allergic to cats asking permission to marry a girl who lives for her cats, a friend that always lived in the shadows of her “best friend” stepping into the spotlight, a college student who goes home again and again to devastating changes to his family. They are all interesting, though seemingly unrelated. Then, there are characters who have bits and pieces scattered throughout the show: the OCD girl who freaks out because her boyfriend made her a cake and touched all the ingredients, and a boy who is nervous about going on a first date with a girl who told her to bring her one red rose. Still, they seem quite unrelated to each other. The magic starts to happen in the second half of the show (what would be Act 2 if there were an intermission). Very quickly, the stories start to connect, with some stories being told from another perspective by another person. Finally, in a long monologue called “Manicure,” a girl mentions her relationships, both minute and significant, to each of the characters in the musical thus far as she sits at the table getting her nails done to go on a date with the boy with the rose. The whole company then reflects on how other people’s day to day actions lead to their own big decisions which can change the whole course of their lives.
The music in this show is both clever and topical. In “Apples & Oranges,” a boy lements about how he never liked apples though everyone else seemed to. He liked oranges, but there were none around. So when he goes to college, he met a boy who also liked oranges. They sing together about how it is okay to be different, and that you should find your own “fruit,” which, personally, is such a cute way to approach the topic sexuality. In “Footprint,” a boy talks about his experiences of going to college, being nervous, and wanting to return to the home in his memory because he has left a footprint there. After returning home three times with high hopes to three tragedies (the loss of his dog, his sister’s elopement, and his parents’ divorce), he realizes that his footprint is where he stands and that he is capable of making other footprints that will spread as he lives his life. “Me & Ricky” discuss the topic of abortion after a bad relationship, which is a touchy subject, but one that should be talked about nonetheless.
The Theory of Relativity is a great choice for young adults and young artists. It gives personal attention to every actor and is great for a cast of singers-who-act and actors-who-sing. It is also a great option for smaller community theatres, as it requires very little for the set and a great amount of flexibility in staging. As an audience member, be prepared to do gymnastics with your emotions. You will laugh. You will cry. But no matter what, you will leave being more aware than ever the effects your actions have on others.