Blogging 'Einstein'

Philip Glass's Masterwork, Minute by Breathless Minute

Lucie Jansch

By Eileen Reynolds

Published September 21, 2012.
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Can’t get enough of Phillip Glass? Here’s a minute-by minute account of ‘Einstein on the Beach,’ now onstage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

6:56 p.m.: I’m in my seat in the big hall at BAM. The house lights are still up and people are milling about and talking, but that recognizable three-note “Einstein” bass line (la, sol, do) is already playing, and there are two women — one black, one white, both tall and thin with short hair — sitting in chairs stage left. They’re wearing high-waisted gray trousers, black suspenders, white short-sleeve button down shirts, black converse sneakers and wristwatches. They have exceedingly good posture.

7:02: The hall is not yet two-thirds full. How will we know when the show “starts”? The two women are saying words and numbers I can’t quite hear over the din of the crowd, and one has her fingertips on the tabletop in front of her. La, sol, do. That lowest note is so low it shakes the floor.

7:04: A guy in a hat who looks rather like Paul Simon strides up to an usher and takes his seat a few rows ahead of me. He is with a boy who looks to be 12 or 13. Does Paul Simon have grandchildren?

7:06: The women are now holding their hands a few inches above the tabletops and moving their fingers as if operating an imaginary computer. Or telegraph. Folks are crawling over one another to get to their seats. A jovial man in the row ahead exclaims, “They say you can come and go, but I don’t think it’s going to be so easy!” He has a point. I’m thirsty. I wish I’d refilled my water bottle. To my right is the aisle seat. I hope it stays empty.

7:08: More people in the trousers-and-suspenders getup have appeared in the orchestra pit, stage left. When did that happen?

7:12: The trousers-and-suspenders people (the chorus?) have started singing! “1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8.” They have long, thin drawn-on eyebrows. Some are moving their hands like the other two women. I read somewhere that this is supposed to be a pantomime of counting on an abacus, but I still think it looks more like everyone is clicking on an imaginary computer mouse.

7:14: I think the house lights have gone down. I still can only catch snatches of what the two women are saying: “red ball, blue ball, two black-and-white balls.” Everyone in the chorus looks so darn happy. Are they? Is it super fun to sing a string of numbers, or does the score indicate that they must smile?

7:16: The men are now singing along with that bass line, “La, sol, do.” One guy moves his arms like he’s steering the big wheel of a bus. A painting of a boy (Einstein?) descends. I have to stand up to let a couple get to the two seats to my left. A man with the sniffles plops down in the aisle seat to my right. He peers over my shoulder at my notes.


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