In The Inventor of All Things, Fringe veteran Jem Rolls tells the little-known story of Leo Szilard, a premier physicist from the “golden age” of atomic physics and a contemporary of the much-more-famous Einstein, Bohr, and Oppenheimer.
Jem’s frenetic energy fills the stage throughout this show, and carries this story across the continents and through the big personalities it concerns. The story’s sweeping scope is also, however, its biggest challenge. It is so big, and features so many characters, that it occasionally runs into choppiness. Jem deals with this by addressing the audience in two distinct modes, one of which tells the story, and the other of which explains and provides context. He manages to make both of these moods work for him, and harnesses the story’s chaotic elements, driving them to his own ends. I won’t go into great detail about the plot, because Jem’s performance needs no help from me.
He tells the story in a funny and self-aware tone that understands its reality as a performance, and plumbs this avenue for a few extra laughs. His great audience interaction ensnares the crowd, and wins them to his cause. All this makes it eminently easy to learn something about a man who may just have saved the world on more than one occasion.
The ironic lens that this play holds up to humanity makes for a number of good laughs, and is also reflected in the mocking narrative and rhetorical devices. These moments, like the recurring dramatic sound effects are interesting when they occur, and I think more and a wider variety of them might heighten the impact of this ongoing gag.
Clearly, this unique tour-de-storytelling-force works best for me in the moments when Jem pulls from his arsenal of poetic techniques. The best of these is the repetition at the play’s conclusion, which serves to drive home his point in a truly powerful climactic moment.
Jem Rolls should not be missed.