Indra’s Net Theater, which produces plays about science and philosophy, opens its 2018-19 season with a stimulating world premiere play about a significant night in the young life of Stephen Hawking (1942-2018), the famous theoretical physicist. Written and directed by Indra’s Net artistic director Bruce Coughran, A Time for Hawking memorializes the first momentous meeting between Stephen Hawking (Alan Coyne) and the woman who would become his first wife, Jane Wilde (Adrian Deane).
The one-act, 100-minute erudite production takes place at a New Year’s Eve party as 1963 approaches. Stephen, then just 21, Jane, two years younger, and Stephen’s friend and fellow physics graduate student at Cambridge, Jayant Narlikar (Tirumari Jothi), find themselves alone together in a garden in St. Albans, near London, as midnight nears.
They engage in a fascinating, wide-ranging conversation that encompasses abstract subjects such as the two different branches of theoretical physics: particle physics, which provided the theoretical basis for splitting the atom and the atom bomb, and Hawking’s chosen field of cosmology, which focuses on the creation of the universe. The tension between science, the arts and humanities are also explored as the trio discuss Einstein’s Theories of Relativity, Indian philosophy, religion and Jane’s field of medieval Spanish poetry. Hawking and Narlikar explore time and consider that, theoretically, it could run backward.
The ever-present flow of time is of prime importance to Hawking since, in this play, he has already learned of his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and has been told that his life expectancy would only be two years. In the most poignant moment in A Time for Hawking, Stephen hesitantly confides the news about his disease and prognosis to Jane. Her courage and stamina in the face of this tragic news give Hawking the strength to face his fears and continue his work.
In reality, the young couple became engaged in 1964 and were married in 1965. A revised version of Jane’s book, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen appeared in 2007 and was made into a film in 2014, The Theory of Everything.
Playwright and director Bruce Coughran has done an admirable job in explaining very abstract and difficult concepts in an intelligent and comprehensible way. No, I did not understand everything, but I certainly know more about theoretical physics than I did before I saw A Time for Hawking.
The cast of three was excellent and succeeded in making their highfalutin speeches seem natural and real. With a small stage to work with, there is not much movement among the players, but their acting abilities overcame that limitation.
A Time for Hawking presents a fascinating glimpse into the all-too-human life of a genius. It is an unusual and welcome addition to Berkeley theater.
A Time for Hawking is playing at the Berkeley City Club, that marvelous Julia Morgan-designed building, at 2315 Durant Ave., Jan. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13; Wednesday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 5 p.m.. All performances include a pre-show talk, which will begin a half hour before the show begins. Tickets are $30, or $25 for students and seniors. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit Indra’s Net Theater.