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Monday, January 9, 2012

Copenhagen (2012) (Flat Earth Theatre Company)

Copenhagen - It is a rare event for Soresport Movies to head out to a play but that is indeed what we did this week. Boston has an active high quality theater community and including the Flat Earth Theatre Company a small but active group producing several plays a year. Choosing challenging plays from a wide variety of subject matter the group challenges their audiences to be active and thinking in experiencing their work. Shows include "The Goat" by Edward Albee, Steve Martin's "The Underpants", and Tracy Letts "Bug".
Copenhagen by Michael Frayn is a challenging look at a meeting between two of the most famous physicists of the WWII era. German scientist Werner Heisenberg traveled to occupied Denmark to meet with his mentor Niels Bohr, a Jewish physicist known as the "father of modern nuclear physics" who received this vist prior to fleeing his country and joining the Manhattan Project in the United States, that group eventually developed the atomic bombs that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Over the decades much has been guessed about the meeting between Bohr and Heisenberg but little actual details are known about what was said. This play looks at the relationship of these two men, their motivations and roles in the war and in the development of nuclear fission.
Lets not pretend that Soresport Movies is adequately knowledgeable in theater production or acting to give valuable review of this production. Lets instead take these comments for what they are the impression from the night. Firstly is the play itself, well written as an examination of meeting between two men at a key point in history. The Germans were working furiously to develop a fission bomb and included Heisenberg as one of the leads in that effort. They had little success and the play proposes a possible reason for that. Most of the worlds theoretical physicists were Jewish and most fled to the United States early in the war. Bohr remained in his homeland Denmark after the German occupation and would only escape later after the fateful meeting with Heisenberg. Looking at that meeting and challenging each others views about motivations the three characters of the play weave a story of science, politics and challenged integrity. It both informs and challenges the audience to think about the moral decisions people have to make in times of crisis and that there are different views of the decisions that are made.
The players Matthew Zahnzinger as Niels Bohr was subtle and physical at the same time. In becoming the older man, shrinking his posture, limiting his flexibility of movement and creating hand and voice mannerisms that really sold it. He was strong from begining to end. Using a British accent you are reminded of many of the old war movies where whether German, Italian, or Danish, everyone shared the same accent. His delivery was sharp and concise with active interaction with the script that even when having to deliver complex scientific ideas was crystal clear. Margrethe Bohr played by Emily Hecht was good as the audience surrogate. Her role the lesser in this play about two men but still important in clarifying motivations for the audience. Emily has a strong presence on stage but sometimes seemed to be waiting for her lines, whether this is a problem with the script or the actress is for better minds to decide. Kevin Kordis' Heisenberg seemed to struggle a bit more than the other two actors, certainly a competent actor filling a large demanding role there were times when he seemed to muff a bit of the dialog. Understand that there are some complex and lengthy explanations of scientific theory he has to recite and those seemed the most challenging. He also seemed a bit one toned in his physical delivery with a constant clenched body language that seemed more nervous than intentional. Still over all the cast was very engaging and the execution was not off putting.
The layout of the stage was certainly a surprising and enjoyable experience. A small circle in the center of the room, the audience first row up against it. A nucleus for the actors to stand on and then to orbit around passing behind the first row. The small space holding only 40 or so seats was excellent for this smaller more intimate play. The actors using the stage and the circular aisles weaved back and forth around and across the space like protons and electrons orbiting a nucleus. An excellent decision that worked well. Director Jake Scaltreto said it was a play with no stage direction so this innovation was a production decision. It enhances the experience, fits with the subject matter and increases the energy of a play that frankly is a conversation and runs the risk of stagnating. After the intermission the second half increases the characters movement around and across this small stage reinvigorating the audience as the story moves towards its climax.
Copenhagen was an engrossing and enjoyable night out and runs for one more weekend, more information and tickets can be found at the Flat Earth Theatre website

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