Asked to explore the mysteries of consciousness and cosmos, few of us would immediately turn to the iconography of chairs. But in “Einstein’s Dreams,” a carefully orchestrated, poetic co-production by the District’s Spooky Action Theater and Burning Coal Theatre of Raleigh, N.C., director and choreographer Rebecca Holderness locates eloquence in the humble piece of furniture.
Imagining the revolutionary notions about time that Albert Einstein may have been kicking about in 1905, “Einstein’s Dreams” features a large ensemble that moves and dances around, and sometimes on, a dozen or so mismatched seats. No ottomans or mini-sofas here, just no-nonsense school- or office-worthy perches, positioned beneath dangling light bulbs — but somehow, the very prosaism of the picture suggests the dizzying grandeur of Einstein’s scientific vision.
“Einstein’s Dreams” — adapted by Kipp Erante Cheng from Alan Lightman’s 1993 novel — has more on its mind than gee-whizzing the physicist’s legacy, however: The hour-long show, which Holderness has staged in Raleigh and elsewhere, also touches on Einstein’s private life, especially his stint as an employee in the Swiss patent office early in the 20th century. Holderness’s performers, dressed in off-white period garb, sometimes channel the personalities of the scientist’s acquaintances and family members. At other times, the actors take turns acting as narrator, conjuring up visions of metaphysically vertiginous alternate realities: a world where time moves backwards; a world where time moves in a circle; a world where time moves more slowly at higher altitudes, prompting people to build houses on stilts.