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Paul Rudd Reads Einstein's Letters on Stage at World Science Festival

By Jon Sobel j.sobel@classicalite.com on May 29, 2014 01:29 PM EDT

Einstein can sing on the beach another time. Yesterday he was at New York University’s Skirball Center, given voice by actor Paul Rudd in Alan Alda's play Dear Albert on the first day of the World Science Festival.

The play explored the great physicist's life and loves through his letters, read by Rudd. Cynthia Nixon voices his wife Maric. The communications convey the pair's early romance and later personal complexities, all the while suggesting that the true love of Albert Einstein's life was science.

One might be tempted to say the same about Alan Alda. Dear Albert, which was also performed at the World Science Festival six years ago, represents only the tip of the iceberg of the actor's science-related activities. The three-time Tony nominee, still best known as the wisecracking Hawkeye Pierce on TV's M*A*S*H,, interviewed some 700 leading scientists for 11 years as host of the award-winning PBS series Scientific American Frontiers. In 2001-2002 he played Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman in a play he had a hand in creating, Peter Parnell's QED, at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles and then on Broadway. (His most recent appearance on Broadway was a Tony-nominated turn in Glengarry Glen Ross in 2005.)

He helped create the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. He was, the New York Times reported earlier this year, "[t]he most popular speaker at the recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science." And Dear Albert isn't his only science-themed play; Anna Gunn of Breaking Bad – also a show that functioned, if much more darkly, as a popularizer of science – starred in his play Radiance, about Marie Curie, in Los Angeles in 2011.

Indeed Alda's primary concern is what we might think of as the theatrics of science. Though there have always been a few high-profile popularizers – Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Brian Cox – for the most part Alda sees a wide communication gap between scientists and the public. Scientists, he says, "often don't speak to the rest of us the way they would if we were standing there full of curiosity. They sometimes spray information at us without making that contact that I think is crucial." On stage and screen alike Alda has dedicated a good chunk of his life to remedying that disconnect.

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TagsAlan Alda, Cynthia Nixon, Paul Rudd, Albert Einstein, Dear Albert, Anna Gunn, Radiance