For their staging of Michael Frayn’s “Copenhagen,” the Performance Network’s theater puts a circular stage at its center, with the audience surrounding it on all sides. The modest setting, decorated with a sparse three chairs, serves as the perfect minimalist backdrop for an extraordinary acting showcase.
The play is about the legendary meeting between scientists Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr in 1941. The meeting, which has long been a source of real-life speculation, takes place between Heisenberg, leader of the Nazi atomic project, and his mentor Bohr, a half-Jewish man living in occupied Denmark. The two go for a walk and come back with their friendship jeopardized. The question that takes precedence in the play is about what exactly happened on the night Heisenberg and Bohr ended their renowned friendship.
Throughout the story this question produces several reenactments of the fateful night and morphs into more of a philosophical question involving life, truth and how Heisenberg’s uncertainty principal can affect more than just particles. Indeed, Heisenberg’s actions during World War II seem to suggest that the principal can be applied to his own life. The play touches on the fact that no one is certain of how much Heisenberg tried to stop the Nazi nuclear project from succeeding, and perhaps not even Heisenberg himself.
“Copenhagen” relies almost solely on the performances of its three characters. Werner Heisenberg (Malcolm Tulip) catches your eye right away and within minutes commands a certain captivation of the crowd. Robert Grossman plays Niels Bohr with stunning precision and delicacy. The final character is Bohr’s wife Margarethe (Susan Marie) who adds a necessary balance between the other actors by grounding the performance.
For the most part the acting in “Copenhagen” is first-rate. Tulip brings an important lightness to his troubled character, which adds depth and clarity into the man that Heisenberg is. Grossman plays Bohr perfectly. He is utterly convincing as a shrewd, aging scientist during the Second World War. It is unclear, in the beginning, just how Marie’s Margarethe is supposed to fit into the story, but by the second act she hits her stride and her acting makes an important impact, which helps tie the play together. The lighting, primarily to illustrate time passage, is used very effectively. The setting is minimized and the circular stage helps in illustrating certain scientific principals and how they relate to and parallel actual life. The stage reminds you of Bohr’s atom model while also helping illustrate the uncertainty principal. This stage, with the audience all around, seems to represent the differing views on the meeting between Bohr and Heisenberg, as well as the diverse perspectives within the world itself.
As a story, “Copenhagen” is excellently written, but it takes a confident and capable cast to pull this story off, drawing you into Nazi occupied Denmark and into the lives of these three people. It is a difficult endeavor, which, in this case, produces stunning results.
Rating: 4 Stars