Breakthrough discoveries don’t usually involve much fanfare. They’re the product of a thought, a spark of inspiration, a moment in a lab or library. And for most people, those breakthroughs — and the many failures that so often preceded them — are inaccessible and hidden.
“Light Falls,” a play that explores Albert Einstein’s groundbreaking theory of relativity, manages to re-create and dramatize one of those discoveries. Relativity — the idea that the laws of physics are the same everywhere, and that space and time warp near massive objects — revolutionized the way people think about the universe. And “Light Falls” gives viewers an inside view of the breakthrough.
The show airs on PBS at 10 p.m. Wednesday, the 100th anniversary of the confirmation of the theory. “Light Falls” takes viewers on a trip through Einstein’s intellect and his influential vision of the universe. Playwright Brian Greene, a Columbia University physicist known for discoveries in the mind-bending field of superstring theory, acts as the guide. And he is joined by a Broadway cast.
The drama puts Einstein in historical context, exploring the struggles of other figures such as scientist Isaac Newton and mathematician David Hilbert. The play is rooted in research, but innovative staging and music give the show a fresh feel.
Greene has a co-star who does an better job of explaining complex scientific concepts than he does: the show’s breathtaking and informative projections.
They swirl around the scientist as he speaks and moves, illustrating how Einstein came up with the theory and spelling out his thinking on gravity, light, acceleration and other concepts. The projections and animations, designed by 59 Productions, a Tony Award-winning design studio and production company, lend an urgency and sense of reality to the science at the play’s heart.
If you’re looking to keep the feeling of “Light Falls” alive, New York’s World Science Festival, which commissioned and debuted the play, runs in the city until June 2. The festival offers plenty of opportunities to engage with big ideas in immersive, accessible ways.