It’s a little-known aspect of one the most well-known lives of the 20th century.
In 1987, letters between Albert Einstein and his first wife, Mileva, were discovered. The letters indicated that the couple had a daughter, born in 1902, the year before they were married. The daughter’s name was Lieserl, and there is virtually nothing known about her other than a couple of references in letters from 1903.
“No one knows what happened to her,” playwright Mark St. Germain said.
Germain was intrigued enough by the story to write “Relativity,” a fictionalized exploration of the mystery of Lieserl Einstein. The world premiere of “Relativity” opens Friday at Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota.
St. Germain’s plays are popular all around the country, but he seems to be a special favorite of the people at FST. They staged several of his shows in recent seasons, including “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” “The Best of Enemies,” “Freud’s Last Session” and “Dancing Lessons.” St. Germain’s “The Fabulous Lipitones,” which he co-wrote with John Markus, just wrapped up its FST run on June 19.
He has a penchant for writing plays about historical figures — besides Dr. Ruth and Sigmund Freud, he’s written plays populated by Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway — and he became intrigued by the mystery of Lieserl after reading a book called “Einstein’s Daughter” by Michele Zackheim.
“She went around Germany and tried to find anyone who might have known Einstein and his wife,” St. Germain said. “Their explanations about what happened to their daughter were all over the place. She was in a convent or she died of scarlet fever, or she was living in California with no knowledge of who her parents were.”
One clue came after Einstein had moved to America and was teaching at Princeton University. He received a letter that said a young woman in England claimed to be his daughter. Einstein hired a private detective to investigate which, St. Germain points out, he probably wouldn’t have done if he knew his daughter was dead. But the detective’s investigation was inconclusive; the woman had information that may have indicated she was who she said she was, but it wasn’t proof.
St. Germain’s play starts with Einstein meeting with a journalist, and sets off on an exploration of the mystery of his missing daughter. In the end, St. Germain said, it proposes a plausible solution.
“I think that something very much like it could be what happened,” he said. “It has some plot twists along the way that will surprise people.”
FST commissioned “Relativity,” along with other theaters, in an alliance called the National New Play Network. The FST production is the first stop in a “rolling world premiere” that takes the play to NNPN theaters in Seattle, Iowa City and Skokie, Ill.
The FST director and cast have helped form the play, St. Germain said. In fact, the script wasn’t “frozen” — which essentially means finished, at least for this production — until Monday.
“I’m very pleased,” said St. Germain, who came to Sarasota from his home in Woodstock, N.Y., for this staging. “Jason Cannon is doing a great job as a director. We have actors who have helped shape the play. They’re intelligent and they’re thoughtful. This is one of the best casts I’ve ever worked with.”