BWW Review: COPENHAGEN Pontificates the Explosive Meeting of Atomic Minds in Austin, TX
The mission statement of Austin Playhouse is to "Provide opportunities for both Austinite performers and audiences to celebrate the human experience". COPENHAGEN, now playing at their temporary home in the ACC Highland Campus, examines a highly debated meeting between Quantum Mechanics pioneer Werner Heisenberg (played by David Stahl), and his mentor, the "Pope" of Quantum Mechanics, Niels Bohr (play by Ev Lunning Jr.). Also attended by Bohr's wife Margrethe Bohr (played by Babs George), this meeting of the minds takes place years after their first skiing vacations together, in which they collaborated to prove Albert Einstein wrong on atomic theory. The examined reunion took place in September 1941, when Heisenberg was working in Nazi Germany as part of their atomic program. Travelling to Denmark to meet with Bohr, a Danish Jew, tensions ran high as the time for the meeting came closer. Within the polarizing political climate of the time, the show displays the current debate and inherently speculative narrative of what was discussed during this visit and how it may have changed human history.
The collaboration between Director Don Toner, and Set Designer Mike Toner, display three chairs, three actors and otherwise empty space set atop an atomic visual. The stage design and direction is both practical for the storytelling written by Michael Frayn, and also symbolic of the atomic structure. With the Bohrs and Heisenberg retelling the fateful meeting with different degrees of speculation, the narrator or "nucleus" shifted, tagging the fellow performers as either positively or negatively charged depending on the scenario. It came across as quite brilliant to layer a heavily spoken story with simple blocking resembling the atomic subject matter.
As this acting major continually tried to keep up with the atomic jargon, the performers delivered their monologues with commitment to the complexity of the text. David Stahl as Heisenberg, displayed his internal struggle with the Nazi's nuclear program unironically through his uncertainty of a scientist's moral obligation. Ev Lunning Jr. played Bohr's stubbornness and outrage in an endearing way, voicing the struggle to reconcile his pupil's political stance with the force occupying his country. The glue of the story was Babs George as Margrethe Bohr, explaining clearly the audience's questions of the scientific theories, and representing the everyman who sees Nazi occupation without an atomic lense. With the tug of war storytelling Frayn wrote for the character's intentions, hopes and realistic capabilities, COPENHAGEN scrutinizes the impact of one on many.
For the world changed forever when humanity figured out the splitting of the atom. The ever-changing point of view for the Allies and Axis debating the equation of scientific significance with the cost of life and the division of power. COPENHAGEN, hypothesizes Heisenberg and Bohr's meeting through experimental narrative, while simultaneously asking a bigger question not answered by the Quantum Mechanic pioneers: How to identify the giant impact of something so small. A ten minute meeting may have enough impact to change the course of human history - much like our tiny atomic friends whom were split and changed humankind forever. Did Heisenberg purposely delay development of a nuclear bomb? Did he warn Bohr what they were planning? The truth unclear but all outcomes are explored in Austin Playhouse's production of COPENHAGEN.
BY: Michael Frayn
APRIL 5TH - APRIL 28TH
Thursdays - Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. with a matinee Saturday, April 13th at 2:00 p.m.
Austin Playhouse at ACC's Highland Campus
6001 Airport Blvd., Austin, TX 78752
?TICKETS: Tickets range from $32-$36
Photo Credit: Lara Toner Haddock