Nov 21-Dec 07, 2008
No Strings Theatre Company presents the Tony-Award winning play Copenhagen written by Michael Frayn and directed by Zac Bannister. Copenhagen opens Friday, November 21 and runs through Sunday, December 7 at the Black Box Theatre, 430 N Downtown Mall in Las Cruces.
What if the Germans had succeeded in building an atomic bomb in World War II? We know that they didn't, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Even after most of Germany's top Jewish theoretical physicists fled to America and Britain, there were still numerous competent scientists in Germany working on nuclear fission. They included several Nobel Prize laureates, including pioneers in the very science on which nuclear weapons were based.
Copenhagen is a play of ideas which features the Danish physicist Niels Bohr (played by Richard Rundell), the German physicist and Bohr's erstwhile protégé Werner Heisenberg (played by Josh Shakra), and Bohr's wife Margrethe (played by Claudia Billings). Bohr and Heisenberg had done some of the most important physics of the 20th century while they worked together 1924-1927. But when the Nazis came to power in 1933, collaborative projects became more difficult; when war broke out in 1939, impossible.
Heisenberg traveled to Copenhagen in 1941 to meet with Bohr. What they talked about is central to the play, or rather their inability to agree on what they had discussed. Heisenberg's project in Berlin was to build a German atomic bomb, which failed. Bohr was smuggled out of occupied Denmark in 1943, from whence he went to Los Alamos and participated in the Manhattan Project, which succeeded.
In Michael Frayn's recent award-winning play, an ambitious, fiercely intelligent, and daring dramatic sensation, Heisenberg meets Bohr and his wife once again to look for the answers and to work out - just as they had worked out the internal functioning of the atom - how we can ever know why we do what we do. A "quantum drama" of sorts, Copenhagen was hailed by London's Sunday Times as "a piece of history, an intellectual thriller, a psychological investigation, and a moral tribunal in full session." The San Francisco Examiner called it "scintillating . . . a dazzling fugue."
Although the thoughts and events depicted in Copenhagen reach back as far as 85 years to the heady explorations of nuclear science in the 1920s and 65 years to the middle of World War II, the conflicts and dialogue of the play remain remarkably current. Historians to this day are divided on the key question of whether the Germans failed to build a bomb because they couldn't - or didn't really want to. As one reflects on the much expanded nuclear community today, it is illuminating to revisit the passionate conversations of the pre-atomic era.
The director, Zac Bannister, is a recent graduate of New Mexico State University where he received an undergraduate degree in Theater Arts. He directed Vincent in Brixton, and A Christmas Carol for ASTC, OCTS's Betrayal, and LCCT's Suicide in B Flat. He also assistant directed The Good Doctor and Dracula for ASTC, and Hotel for OCTS.
Richard Rundell has been active on Las Cruces area stages for thirty years. Some of his favorite roles have been Prospero in The Tempest (DAFT), Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came To Dinner (LCCT), Fagin in Oliver! (ACT), the Player in Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead (LCCT), Robert in A Life In The Theatre (NSTC), Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd (DALO) and Pozzo in WaitingFor Godot (NSTC). He also toured Germany with one-man shows in English in 1991 (A Cast of One) and 1999 (Flying Solo). He directed Love Letters, The Firebugs, and Art at LCCT. By day, Rundell is a Professor at NMSU teaching German, Honors, and Film Studies and is Head of the Department of Languages and Linguistics.
Josh Shakra has a B.A. in Psychology from NMSU. He was seen in ASTC's Vincent in Brixton and A Christmas Carol, and NSTC's Vincent, Baby With The Bathwater, and Big Love.
Claudia Billings is the Producing Director for ASTC, faculty of NMSU Department of Theatre Arts. She teaches Introduction to Theatre and Acting. She has directed ASTC's The Laramie Project and the staged reading of Pixie as well as A Place With The Pigs at the Black Box Theatre She played Grace in Bus Stop and Ursula in Vincent in Brixton.
Atomic theory not all that difficult to understand
Black Box Theatre's 'Copenhagen' is anything but dry
- By Jon Swalby, Las Cruces Bulletin
No Strings Theatre Company at the Black Box Theatre presents the Tony Award-winning "Copenhagen," written by Michael Frayn, directed by Zac Bannister and produced by Ceil Herman. The play features Richard Rundell as Niels Bohr, Claudia Billings as Margrethe Bohr and Josh Shakra as Werner Heisenberg.
When I first read this play's press release, I became worried. The plot sounded as if it might be dry and tedious and I got the impression that if one did not have a working knowledge of atomic structure and of the history of "the bomb," it would be easy to become lost. I was close on a couple of counts. The play did strike me as being a bit tedious. It seemed like it took a very long time to get to the meat of the matter. Dry, it was not. While there are numerous references to historical data, I didn't really become lost in them. They were necessary to set the places, the characters and the time lines. The historical knowledge I was concerned about would have been an advantage, but turned out to be a non-issue. That left the press release.
So, let me try to decipher what I saw last night. Niels Bohr was a Danish physicist. Werner Heisenberg was a German physicist and was Bohr's young protégé. They worked together from 1924 to 1927 and were among a handful of scientists who developed an understanding of atomic theory. They collaborated until 1933 when the Nazis came into power. From that time on, due to the exclusion of Jews from Nazi Germany's vision, a continued collaboration became difficult. it became impossible when the war began in 1939.
The story revolves around Heisenberg's travel to Copenhagen in 1941 to meet with Bohr to determine what they had discussed in those early war years. Germany had attempted to develop "the bomb" but failed. Whether this was due to a lack of expertise and execution, or a lack of conviction appears to remain a mystery to this day.
The crux of this play is the reminiscing, the discussions and the arguments that go on between Bohr, his wife and Heisenberg while trying to remember exactly what each had said to the others in that 1941 meeting. These discussions are interestingly staged in spotlighted cameos, if you will. One or two of the characters would be in the dark while the speaker was lit. I found this very effective in isolating the memories and thoughts of each individual.
Another interesting technique was the use of repetition, which was explained to us by Bannister prior to the opening of Act 1. There are several "catch" lines or phrases, which take on different meanings each time they are used.
In Act 2, the audience is visually and physically distanced by the use of black costumes and music stands placed between the audience and cast. According to Bannister, this was done to heighten the isolation and encouraged the audience to focus on the dialogue. In Act 2, we finally learn exactly what Bohr and Heisenberg were trying to remember and determine.
It wasn't until after the play, as I was walking to the parking lot, that I realized - thanks to a quick conversation with Shakra - that we had essentially seen the play three times. That is how the repetition Bannister referred to earlier came into play. Each iteration brought more to light. We began to have a better understanding of the relationship between the principle players. We knew them better. We understood their pain and anger. I'll leave you with that.
WouldIencourageyoutoseethisplay? Certainly. Despite "Copenhagen" being fairly complicated and challenging to comprehend, I liked it. It is well written and I think that the direction was "interesting." Don't take that to mean that the direction was done badly. It was just unusual. There's nothing wrong with unusual.
No seating plan has been posted.