Review: Boston Events Insider

By Revonda Pokrzywa, Boston Events Insider

4 out of 5 stars

There are moments when the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance. When these moments are over, we are always left with the questions of "what might have been?" and in some cases even "what actually happened?". In Flat Earth Theatre's production of the tony award winning play "Copenhagen", written by Michael Frayn and directed by Jake Scaltreto, the focus is on the pivotal 1941 meeting between Werner Heisenberg and his former mentor Niels Bohr in Nazi occupied Copenhagen. It was a meeting which let to a great amount of historical speculation because it was one of the first times the possibility of an atomic bomb was voiced.

While the aforementioned questions are asked about this meeting throughout "Copenhagen", the most persistent question is, "Why did Heisenberg make the visit in the first place?". This quetion has many potentially interesting answers. Was he there to get information on the allied bomb program? Was he there to emphasize his status as a preeminent scientist in one of the most powerful countries in the world? Was he there to prevent the creation of a bomb? Was he there to ask for absolution? Each one of these possibilities is addressed in "Copenhagen", but the underlying mystery, much like the electrons studied in Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle, remains largely unresolved. "Copenhagen" runs now through January 14th at the Factory Theatre on 791 Tremont St. in Boston, with a special pay what you can performance on Thursday, January 12th.

"Copenhagen" relies heavily on the efforts of its three actors; the two famous scientists Niels Bohr, played by Matthew Zahnzinger, and Werner Heisenberg, played by Kevin Kordis and Bohr's wife and confidante Margrethe, portrayed by Emily Hecht. All three put forth a Herculean effory in "Copenhagen", since the play is chock-full of long, pedantic dialogues. At times I felt like I was back in one of my old lecture halls. Unlike some of those past lecturers, however, the actors in "Copenhagen" managed to draw me into the story. Zahnzinger's portrayal of Bohr was especially compelling. Throughout "Copenhagen", from his mannerisms to his elocution he seems like an aging Oxford don. He embodies a scientist who has lived much of his life in the theoretical realm, but still cannot avoid the tragedies of life.

Although the focus of "Copenhagen" is more on the acting than on the production, the choreography and stage setting requires special notice if for nothing else than its cleverness. Scenic designers James Hayward and Jake Scaltreto, who also directs, and stage manager Amy Lehrmitt are to be applauded. In "Copenhagen", the audience becomes part of a Bohr model of an atom. Meanwhile, Kordis, Zahnzinger and Hecht take on the dual roles of their famous personages and electrons. As they confront each other over the layered meanings of the famous Copenhagen meeting, they move about the stage and encircle the audience in parallel to the trajectories of the very electrons that were the focus of their scientific studies. You become part of the story without having to actively participate in it.

As absorbing as this production is, if you are a coffee or tea drinker, it might be a bad idea to indulge in this habit before seeing Flat Earth Theatre's "Copenhagen". In addition to being incredibly cerebrally intense, it's also 2.5 hours long with only one short intermission. You won't want to miss a minute of it, but it will take a lot out of you. At times, sitting through "Copenhagen" can feel a bit like a marathon and there were times when I wished that Frayn had incorporated more silences into his dialogue. However, even though there are times when it seems somewhat long, it's one of those productions where you will be glad that you stayed for the entire performance. It's that thought provoking.

The world has changed since the time of the historic meeting between Bohr and Heisenberg and its ramifications which led to the so-called "Atomic Age". On the plus side, we no longer constantly fear a nuclear holocaust. However, that meeting also led to a scientific loss of innocence. It illustrated that scientific theories could be applied not only towards the advancement of knowledge, but to global annihilation as well. No matter that this was never the original intention. "Copenhagen" emphasizes that in everything we do there is the element of uncertainty. However, one thing is certain. With its many references to both the physical sciences as well as to "Hamlet", "Copenhagen" is sure to appeal to a wide range of geeks and intellectuals.