War games

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  January 16, 2008

When Third debuted, Dianne Wiest brought (by most accounts) an ameliorative softness to Laurie (who, echoing Heidi Holland, goes all wistful in the midst of a second-act lecture). At the Huntington, Maureen Anderman plays her more as written: a decent person with a hard, ironic edge. There are also enjoyable performances by Robin Pearson Rose as cancer survivor Nancy, who’s determined to enjoy the third of her life she had expected to be a no-show, and Halley Feiffer, who brings a tart goofiness to Laurie’s questioning daughter. But as Woodson Bull III, Graham Hamilton is too benign to be seen, even by Angela Davis crossed with Hillary Clinton, as an avatar of the Bush administration.

The stakes are higher among the academics of Copenhagen (presented by the American Repertory Theatre at the Loeb Drama Center through February 3). British writer Michael Frayn’s shifting meditation on the mysterious 1941 meeting between Danish physicist Niels Bohr, who went on to work at Los Alamos, and Werner Heisenberg, the Bohr acolyte who headed Hitler’s nuclear-energy program, in the Nazi-occupied city of the title won the London Evening Standard Award for Best Play in 1998 and followed that up with a 2000 Tony. The ART, which does not often catch trickle-down from Broadway, has revived the heady work, set designer David Reynoso crowning it with a Calderesque atom on which electrons blink and circle like cars on a roller coaster. Scott Zigler is at the helm of the production, whose three capable players move in circles or along axes, more slowly than those zooming electrons but in similar patterns, offering an intelligent, flaringly emotional rendering of Frayn’s scientifically scored symphony of memory, perception, misperception, and the uncertainty, here transferred from quantum physics to “a strange new quantum ethics,” for which Heisenberg was famous.

Copenhagen is set in some post-life limbo in which the principals — Heisenberg, Bohr, and Bohr’s wife, Margrethe — agree to hash and rehash the 1941 meeting in much the same way that the two physicists brainstormed their way to what became known as the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics. The ostensible hope is for an accord as to what took place that would forever alter the men’s relationship — and possibly the outcome of the war and the future of the world. Over and over the question is posed: why did Heisenberg come to Copenhagen? Over and over, the characters re-enact the strained encounter, unable to codify what was said on a brief walk that turned Bohr angry and sent Heisenberg skedaddling. Was the German physicist snooping for knowledge of the Allies’ atomic-energy program? Did he come to warn Bohr about the Nazis’ program? Both scientists agree that the visiting German asked the loaded question “Does one as a physicist have the moral right to work on the practical exploitation of atomic energy?” But was Heisenberg, as he was to claim, delicately seeking an agreement that neither man would contribute his brilliance to a race to build a bomb? Did the two men collide and deflect like subatomic particles, in a bungled moment that just may have preserved the planet?

< prev  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |   next >
Related: Let’s get physical, Primary colors, Heidi and seek, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Entertainment, Science and Technology, Scott Zigler,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY CAROLYN CLAY
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   ARTSEMERSON'S METAMORPHOSIS  |  February 28, 2013
    Gisli Örn Garðarsson’s Gregor Samsa is the best-looking bug you will ever see — more likely to give you goosebumps than make your skin crawl.
  •   CLEARING THE AIR WITH STRONG LUNGS AT NEW REP  |  February 27, 2013
    Lungs may not take your breath away, but it's an intelligent juggernaut of a comedy about sex, trust, and just how many people ought to be allowed to blow carbon into Earth's moribund atmosphere.
  •   MORMONS, MURDERERS, AND MARINERS: 10 THEATER SENSATIONS COMING TO BOSTON STAGES THIS SPRING  |  February 28, 2013
    Mitt Romney did his Mormon mission in France. But there are no baguettes or croissants to dip into the lukewarm proselytizing of bumbling elders Price and Cunningham, two young men sent by the Church of Latter-day Saints to convert the unfaithful of a Ugandan backwater in The Book of Mormon .
  •   THE HUMAN STAIN: LIFE AND DEATH IN MIDDLETOWN  |  February 22, 2013
    The New York Times dubbed Will Eno a “Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation.”
  •   ZEITGEIST STAGE COMPANY'S LIFE OF RILEY  |  February 22, 2013
    Sir Alan Ayckbourn has written more than 70 plays, most of which turn on an intricate trick of chronology or geography.

 See all articles by: CAROLYN CLAY