Sunday, October 20, 2019
"Is it now? I thought I had more time."
These first words in the play “Wakey, Wakey,” are spoken by Guy, a man who knows that he is about to die.
Much like the epic “Waiting for Godot,” Will Eno’s emotionally moving script existentially questions why we exist, probes into why we are here, and the possible journeys that are taken to eventually get to the end.
As a long-time end-of-life volunteer counselor for the Hospice of the Western Reserve, I have observed, shared, experienced, and grieved the end of many patient’s lives. Those last couple of hours or days takes the form of sitting quietly and sharing their space at home, in a nursing facility or at the hospice, or actively communicating with the patient and sometimes, the family. At times I administered Reiki, guided imagery, or played music to help the exit journey. At other times I held a hand of the person or that of a family member. Each case was a life-changing experience.
That experience can be felt, observed, and participated in, by spending a little over an hour at Dobama for their present production of “Wakey, Wakey.”
We observe, in silence, low level conversations, and yes, even laughter, as Guy, in a wheel chair, recounts his life, with the aid of file card notes and projected pictures.
His hospice worker ministers to his needs, sweeps the air of psychological impurities (though as administered it looks like a dynamic voodoo ritual rather than a slow aesthetic cleansing which is part of the Reiki ritual), volunteers support, and check to assure that Guy has left his earthly home.
Director Christopher Mirto guides us wisely through the experience, nicely pacing the action and helping the actors texture their roles.
Jason Martin, as Guy, inhabits the role as if he is a master at end of life experience. His is a meaningful, carefully crafted portrayal, which allows us to feel both identification and empathy.
Katrice Headd has the difficult role of being present, as Lisa, but not becoming so attached to her patient that his demise devastates her. She carries it off with gentleness and maturity…the signs of a well-trained Hospice caretaker.
Many contemporary plays incorporate electronic graphics into their productions. Often, they simply take the place of scenery or are used to create illusions. In “Wakey, Wakey,” the well-conceived visuals by T. Paul Lowry are a necessity for gaining a full picture of Guys travel through life.
Also impressive is the sound (Derek Graham) and lighting (Marcus Dana) that complement the staging.
Capsule judgment: Will Eno’s “Wakey, Wakey” is a heartfelt look at the end of life which invites the audience to be psychologically present while the emotional tale masterfully plays itself out. Justifiably, there is no curtain call. Who applauds a eulogy?
“Wakey, Wakey” runs through November 10, 2019 at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights. Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.
Next up at Dobama is “The Old Man and The Old Moon,” an odyssey of music and theatre magic that speaks to the childish mind in all of us. Good family entertainment.
Monday, October 07, 2019
Sara Bruner has proven once again that she is the queen of Shakespeare staging. As she did last season with her “The Taming of the Shrew,” her women-centric version of “Julius Caesar,” which is now on stage at Great Lakes Theater, is creative, well-formulated and long on clear message development.
Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” identified as “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” in the Bard’s First Folio, may well have been the first play staged in London’s Globe Theatre.
Set in 44 BC, it is a historical tragedy and, like his “Coriolanus” and “Anthony and Cleopatra,” is based on true events from Roman history.
At the time of its first staging, there was general angst in England. The reigning Queen Elizabeth was aging. Her time in power was coming to an end and there was concern because she had no heirs and wouldn’t name a successor. There was fear that at her death there would be a Civil war, like the one that wracked Rome.
The play centers on the moral dilemma of Brutus as he questions whether to join a conspiracy led by Cassius to murder the publicly adored, successful warrior, Julius Caesar, who, it is perceived, that if left to her choice, would become the dictator of Rome. This would mean the end of the republic.
Brutus struggles as he asks, “what is meant by honor, patriotism and friendship?”
Questions abound: Will Caesar declare herself emperor? Will Cassius convince Brutus to join the conspiracy? What will Mark Antony, who has offered Caesar the crown of Rome three times, do if there is a coupe? Though Caesar is cast as the protagonist, since Brutus is the driving force of the play, is she the tragic hero? How will Shakespeare resolve the conflict between envy and ambition versus honor and patriotism? Who are the heroes and the villains? Or, are there no good and bad characters?
Is there any modern-day lesson to be learned from the play?
According to the GLT program Playnotes, “Shakespeare himself foresaw the universality of this story when Cassius says, ‘How many ages hence/Shall this our lofty scene be acted over/In states unborn and accent yet unknown!’”
Brunner, in her Director’s notes, picks up Shakespeare’s past/future idea when she states, “The function of ‘Julius Caesar’ is the same for us today as it was for Shakespeare’s audiences. It gives us perspective on our own social and political situations while offering us a little distance, and space for reflection. In this devastating tale of Rome, and its people, we are able to see glimpses of ourselves, our leaders, our history and our potential future. We see that violence begets violence and that sometimes, we can inadvertently destroy something we love in the pursuit of preserving it.”
“Julius Caesar,” both historically, and as written, is a very male-centric play…the leading characters are men…Caesar, Cassius, Mark Anthony and Brutus are males. But, need this be? Not in Bruner’s mind. She cast both Caesar and Cassius as women. The dialogue required a changing of some “he’” and “his” to “her” and “she,” but little else. She did this because, she wanted “to examine what happens when women gain access to power in a male-dominated world.”
From the viewpoint of this reviewer, putting aside my knowledge of history and the Shakespeare script, I found little real difference. This is interesting, since, as a human communication professor I know the research by Debra Tannen and Julia Woods, gender communication researchers, who indicate there is a major difference between the words that men and women use and the way they exert power. I, personally had no problem in buying into Bruner’s casting and the women using Shakespeare’s words. Though, if I were a strong chauvinist, I might have.
Bruner’s concept of bridging past to present was represented in both the set and costume design. The modernistic steel girders and wood-angled walls brought awareness that this was not Roman-columned times. The modern costumes, overlaid with classic Roman fabric draping, though it often caused some of the cast to awkwardly handle the material, also opened up the visual sense of past/present.
“Julius Caesar” is one of the Bard’s grisliest plays. Bodies are often strewn over the stage. Unlike many of Shakespeare’s works, those bodies found death not by poison or accident but by stabbing in full-view of the audience. Blood literally flowed from the wounds in the form of ribbons of red extracted from each knife stab. Yards and yards of crimson fabric were used to illuminate the slaughter. The lasting illusion was a visual tribute to the horrors of strife and war.
Laura Welsh Berg gave us a driven Cassius, balancing word versus deed. Carole Healey’s Julius Caesar was warrior right, leader strong and vindictive when need be. Nick Steen’s Mark Antony was hero handsome in developing a meaningful textured role. Lynn Robert Berg created a clear and strong Brutus. Jodi Dominick was captivating as the Soothsayer. Lyn Robert Berg (Brutus), Jillian Kates (Portia), Aled Davies (Cicero), and Alex Syiek (Casca) were all strong in developing clear characterizations.
Russell Metheny’s scenic design, Leah Piehl’s costumes, Rick Martin’s lighting and Matthew Webb’s incidental music and sound design well highlighted the staging.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The production is riveting. It is fast paced, lines clearly stated, actions exciting, and acting well-textured. This is Shakespeare staging and performance at its finest. It’s a must see for anyone who enjoys good theater. Kudos to Sara Bruner and her fine cast and technical staff!
The show runs through November 3, 2019 in the Hanna Theatre. Tickets can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to http://www.greatlakestheater.org/
Sunday, October 06, 2019
The play “Member of the Wedding” is based on Carson McCullers 1946 novel of the same name. The author also penned the script for the 1950 Broadway stage production which starred Ethel Waters, Julie Harris and Brandon DeWilde.
The stage version opened to universally positive reviews, with much praise, not only for the writing, but for the staging and the performances.
A musical version, television adaptation and a 1989 Broadway revival production, followed.
The story takes place over a few days in late August. It tells the story of 12-year-old Frankie Addams, who feels disconnected from the world. A self-described “unjoined person.”
Frankie's mother died when she was born, and her father is a distant, uncomprehending man, escaping into his business, rather than being a caring father.
Frankie’s world is mostly populated by the family's African American maid, Berenice, and her six-year-old cousin, John Henry. She has no friends in her small Southern town and dreams of going away with her brother, who is in the Army, and his bride-to-be, on their honeymoon.
The book and play are each a study of the motivations and psychological needs of the three main characters. It is a study of people, not of plot line.
The misfit Frankie (who some think is the alter-ego of McCullers) is frustrated, lonely, and restless, with few social skills, whose fantasy of hopes of going away with her brother and sister-in-law, to escape from her desolate life, are dashed. Both John Henry and Berenice are left adrift as the family unit breaks apart.
McCullers takes on racial and sexual identity issues, both of which were shocking topics for the time.
Frankie wishes people could “change back and forth from boys to girls.” John Henry wants them to be "half boy and half girl."
Berenice would like there to be "no separate colored people in the world, but all human beings would be light brown color with blue eyes and black hair."
The brilliantly written play has become a classic in the American dramatic genre.
Carson McCullers once said of her play, that it was "one of those works that the least slip can ruin. It must be beautifully done. For like a poem there is not much excuse for it otherwise."
I wish I could write that the Beck production fulfilled McCullers desire for being beautifully done, but, unfortunately, I can’t.
For a staging of the epic to be successful, each character must be realistically created and the staging so smooth that we perceive we are eaves-dropping in a real world. Witnesses to overhearing real people, not dramatic characters.
Though the cast puts out full effort, only Lisa Louise Langford, as Berenice, comes close to being natural, talking meanings, not emoting words. She creates a woman whose life as a black Southern woman, caretaker of a dysfunctional family, and having her own personal problems, is real, identifiable, relatable.
Putting children on stage is always a danger. Usually they have limited training and need much help from a knowing director to understand that in a realistic world, which this play clearly creates, it is necessary to grasp the underpinnings of the character and the need for being, not acting, not emoting lines. To become the character, not portray the character.
Some of the supporting actors also needed work on line meanings, projection, using consistent accents, and the development of real people.
Besides the shallow development of characterizations, some of the staging was awkward. The L-shaped audience seating area in Beck’s Studio Theater can cause sight and hearing issues. The staging must take that into consideration, but, in this production, often didn’t. For example, sitting John Henry, in several scenes, with his back to the largest section of the audience, made it difficult for many to hear his lines. And staging a scene in a notch between the two audience seating areas made seeing and hearing the action difficult for many.
Capsule Judgment: Unfortunately, the staging and performance quality of “The Member of the Wedding” was not what it should have been.
“Member of the Wedding” is scheduled to run at Beck Center for the Arts through November 3. For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go online to http://www.beckcenter.org
Next up at Beck: A reprise of “Shrek The Musical” form December 6, 2019 through January 5, 2020.
Sunday, September 29, 2019
We are in the midst of “The Music Man” blizzard. In the last year, Porthouse Theatre and The Stratford Festival of Canada have done the show, and a Broadway production starring Hugh Jackman as Harold Hill, will begin performances on October 15, 2020. Two-time Tony Award-winning superstar, Sutton Foster, will co-star as Marian the librarian. The production will be directed by four-time Tony Award winner, Jerry Zaks, with choreography by Tony Award winner Warren Carlyle.
Don’t be upset if you won’t get to NY. Great Lakes Theater is staging the show in what is a bright, exuberant production, under the artistic guidance of recent Cleveland Arts Prize winner, Victoria Bussert.
Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” is one of American musical theatre’s most produced shows. The song and dance fest is considered by many to be one of the genre’s best combination of story and music.
As I reported in my Porthouse review, the show’s march to popularity was not an easy one. After many years of trying to convert Willson and Franklin Lacey’s hokey story into a musical, trying to shoehorn almost 40 songs into the score (twenty-two were eventually cut), more than forty script drafts, and a change of producers, the show finally opened on Broadway on December 19, 1957.
Opening night reviews were sensational, calling the production, “a marvelous show,” “rooted in wholesome and comic tradition,” and “a whopping hit.” It went on to win five Tony Awards, including winning Best Musical recognition over “West Side Story.” Praise was heaped on original cast members, Robert Preston, who reprised his title role in the 1962 screen adaptation, and Barbara Cook.
Willson wrote the book “But He Doesn’t Know the Territory” about the trials of getting the show to Broadway.
Stories include that Wilson’s interest in the story was inspired by his boyhood experiences in Mason City, Iowa. In addition, it is revealed that the song, “Ya Got Trouble,” was originally spoken dialogue about the serious woes facing River City parents, but during the developmental process it was realized the words had a sound that was ideal for a “patter song,” so music was written to underscore the cadence.
We also become aware that in “the original production (and the film), the School Board was played by the Buffalo Bills, the 1950 International Quartet Champions of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA).”
And, “Robert Preston claimed that he got the role of Harold Hill despite his limited singing range because, when he went to audition, they were having the men sing "Trouble." The producers felt it would be the most difficult song to sing, but with his acting background, it was the easy for Preston.”
As for the story, “the plot concerns con-man, Harold Hill, who poses as a kids' band organizer and leader, selling band instruments and uniforms to naive Midwestern townsfolk. He promises to train the members of the new band. Harold is no musician, however, and plans to skip town without giving any music lessons. Prim librarian and piano teacher Marian sees through him. When Harold helps her younger brother overcome his lisp and social awkwardness, Madam Librarian changes her tune. And, of course, as happens in all good musical comedy love stories, Marian falls in love and Harold risks being caught to win her hand. As the lights go out all are assured that the duo will live happily ever after.
The GLT production is fresh and encompassing. Bussert, who heads Baldwin Wallace’s highly ranked Musical Theatre program, has brought along many of her present and past students to litter the stage with dynamic talent.
Both leads are BW grads. Alex Syiek gives his own spin to Harold, adding a macho quality with an underbelly of sensitive softness. Displaying a strong singing voice and well-developed acting chops, his scenes with Winthrop (Ian McLaughlin) are heartfelt and there is an obvious stage connection with Jillian Kates.
Kates, who was in the national touring company of “Wicked,” has a well-trained singing voice and nicely develops Marian in her trajectory from a frosty librarian to a love-struck woman.
Other BW attendees and grads who give strong performances in major roles are Marcus Martin as the dynamic Marcellus Washburn and Jodi Dominick as the uptight Eulalie Shin.
David Anthony “mumfers” his way delightfully as Mayor Shinn and Carole Healey charms as Mrs. Paroo.
The “Pick-A-Little” ladies and the Quartet are pitch perfect.
The technical aspects of the show are outstanding, as is Nancy Maier and her orchestra.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “The Music Man” is an apple pie, All American, feel good musical which gets a fresh, dynamic and engaging production at GLT under the creative direction of Victoria Bussert.
“The Music Man” runs through November 10, 2019 at the Hanna Theatre. Tickets can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to http://www.greatlakestheater.org/
Saturday, September 28, 2019
Suzan-Lori Parks, Lynn Nottage and Tonya Barfield are noted as emerging African American playwrights. Another member of that sorority is the award-winning Dominique Morisseau, the author of “The Detroit Project,” a 3-Play Cycle which includes “The Skeleton Crew,” “Detroit ’67,” and “Paradise Blue.” The latter is now on stage at Karamu Theatre.
Called “haunting,” “vibrant,” and "...a juicy and resonant piece of writing, filled to the brim with complex, empathetic characters struggling and infighting as part of a community living under extreme duress,” the script centers on Blue, a gifted trumpeter, who contemplates selling his once-vibrant jazz club in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood to shake free the demons of his past.
Black Bottom was a predominantly black neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan. It was famous for its music scene. African American major blues singers, big bands, and jazz artists, such as Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine, Pearl Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, and Count Basie, regularly performed in the bars and clubs of neighborhood’s Paradise Valley entertainment district.
In the early 1960s, the City of Detroit conducted a renewal program to combat what it called "Urban Blight." The program razed the entire Black Bottom district and replaced it with a mixed-income development designed as a model neighborhood combining residential townhouses, apartments and high-rises with commercial areas.
One of the buildings that went the way of regentrification was the Paradise Club, a bar owned by Blue’s father, filled with both good and bad memories.
Questions arise as Blue considers whether to sell the establishment and move to Chicago. What happens to Pumpkin, his lover and sweet, poetry-quoting woman, who has dreams of her own? What does it mean for the club’s resident band? Why has a mysterious woman, with a walk that drives men mad, come to town and renting a room above the bar?
Karamu is a perfect venue in which to experience the musically-infused drama. The mostly African American audience reacts to the highs and lows, protagonists and antagonist, with emotional verbalizations. Based on the long tradition of church and meeting hall “call and response,” in which talking and reacting during the service is allowed, even encouraged, spontaneous responses and shouts from attendees ring out. There is no doubt that the audience is into the action! And the well-directed and talented cast react to the encouragement.
Dyrell Barnett appropriately seethes and lashes out, verbally and physically, as the frustrated Blue.
Latecia Delores Wilson, she of beautiful face and tender demeanor, is spot-on as Pumpkin, the oft-target of Blue’s physical and verbal torments.
Handsome Drew Pope creates a realistic P. Sam, a talented drummer, who finds himself frustrated by the lack of opportunities for a young Black man.
As Corn, a piano player who is also the prop on which Blue depends, Darryl Tatum, shines.
Multi Cleveland Critics Circle and Brodwayworld.com award winner, Nina Domingue, saunters sexually, speaks with authority, wields a mean gun, and fleshes out a Silver who is both an enigma and a woman to be dealt with.
Scenic designer Richard H. Morris, Jr.’s mult-level set well-fits the action, but seems a little too high-grade and polished for the Black Bottom neighborhood. Daniel Spearman’s trumpet recording showcases the sounds of a high-quality musician. India Blatch-Geib has designed era-correct costumes.
Justin Emeka’s direction keeps the pace intense while building the tension to the shocking conclusion.
Capsule judgment: “Paradise Blue” gets a solid, high quality, thought-inducing, drama and laugh-inducing production. It’s Karamu at its best!
The play is being presented, from September 26 through October 20, 2019, in the renovated Jelliffe Theater, located in Karamu House, 2355 East 89th Street. There is a no-fee, guarded, fenced, lighted parking lot adjacent to the theatre. For tickets call 216-795-7077 or go to http://www.karamuhouse.org/
Friday, September 27, 2019
On October 12 at 8PM in the Ohio Theatre and October 13 at 3 PM at Fairmount Temple, The Musical Theater Project (TMTP) will present “BLUE SKIES—IRVING BERLIN AND THE AMERICAN DREAM” with Bill Rudman, Paul Ferguson, Trev Offult and Michael Shirtz, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and Joe Hunter Trio. It is a tribute to Irving Berlin.
The program is part of “The Song Is You! Series,” which celebrates the songs and artists that give the musical theater art form its passion and significance. It, as all of the series programs (“docu–concerts” or live documentaries), explores remarkable words and music that speak to our lives, create memories along the way.
“The Musical Theater Project was formed in 2000 to foster a deep appreciation of the American musical -- and the social and cultural history surrounding it -- by producing concerts, in-school residency programs, radio broadcasts and recordings that:
- Create personal connections with the songs, characters and themes of the American musical.
- Document the lives of important American musical theater artists.
- Explore the connections between the musical and the rich diversity of the American experience.
- Examine the relevance of musical theater in contemporary society.”
An on-line interview with Bill Rudman, the founder and artistic director of TMTP, revealed a great deal about Bill and the program.
What was the basis for your idea to develop TMTP?
“I had been doing my radio show on WCLV, “Footlight Parade,” for 15 years. In 1998, I decided to try to syndicate it, but I knew that would mean forming a nonprofit to provide support. I also knew that there was plenty more I wanted to do: The radio show is educational, and I wanted to create more of that in other forms. I was trained as an English teacher! So, I wanted to develop concerts and a school program and heaven knows what else.”
What roadblocks, if any, did you encounter in developing TMTP or the radio show?
“It always comes down to money, doesn’t it? I needed to develop a base of support, and the challenge was to build this brick by brick — first by forming a board of trustees, and then 11 years later, bringing on Heather Meeker as a partner and going through serious strategic planning, which we’ve been doing every year since then. We believe we’ve done all this in a very smart way. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have lasted.”
How did the radio show go from local to national?
“By my talking to my friend Bob Conrad at WCLV, which had carried the show since 1983. Once we had some funding in place, they syndicated the program to public stations; we’re now carried by about 100. And 10 years ago, we pitched the show under a different title — “On the Aisle” — to SiriusXM Satellite Radio. They’ve been carrying it ever since. It’s the only show on their Broadway Channel that’s not generated in New York.”
What in your training/education best equipped you to develop and carry forth TMTP?
“BA in English with a lot of theater at Hiram College, and I taught English in the Catskills. So, first and foremost, I’m an educator. Plus, I worked for many years as the associator in charge of educational programming at Great Lakes Theater, and I’ve consulted for arts organizations all over the country. Plus, I’ve been teaching musical history in one form or another since the first full-credit course I offered as a student at Hiram in 1971. Plus, I fell in love with this art form when I was five and began studying it when I was 11. Plus, I’ve co-directed a national record label on musical theater since 1983. It’s now part of TMTP. Hope that’s enough! The point is, I’m a man obsessed. It’s a calling, pure and simple.”
You sing in some of the programs. Do you have any formal music training?
“Yes, all the way through high school and college. But I don’t consider myself a ‘singer.’ I’m an educator who uses singing as a teaching tool. I know what I can do and what I can’t. Let’s put it this way: You’ll never hear me attempt ‘Some Enchanted Evening.’ But ‘Lydia, the Tattooed Lady?’ Sure!”
What are two of your favorite experiences regarding your work with TMTP and/or the radio show?
“Gotta do three! Watching the concert audience grow from 38 for the first one to hundreds these days. Seeing the school program grow by leaps and bounds. Winning a national audience for the radio show that puts our community on the map.”
Who was the subject of the best interview you have done?
“The composer John Kander (“CABARET,” “CHICAGO”). He told me he was shy and hated interviews, but our conversation became very warm and very personal. It was a three-part, three-hour documentary.”
What one thing you would like me to include in the article that is not listed here.
Just that when theater people talk about their “journeys” as artists, that’s been true in spades for me as educator and artist since teaching my first class and doing my first radio show in college nearly 50 years ago. I believe that my colleagues and I in this organization are constantly growing intellectually, emotionally and even spiritually in terms of the work we do in our community — and the nation. And in turn, what we’re getting from them through the human, often truly deep connections we make. It’s a real and exhilarating conversation. What could be more fun — or thrilling — than that?”
Want more than the live production? The radio shows, “Footlight Parade” and “On the Aisle” pull back the curtain to reveal information about the songwriters and performers who create musical theatre, as well as the universal themes and historic productions that make it a social and cultural touchstone. The shows are heard locally on WCLV 104.9 Saturdays at 6 and On Sirius, it’s heard on Channel 72 Saturdays at 3 PM and Tuesdays at 9 PM.
For tickets to productions and information about TMTP go to http://www.MusicalTheaterProject.org or call 216-529-9411.
Sunday, September 22, 2019
Did a meeting between two world-famous Jewish physicists have an effect on Germany not developing an atomic bomb? Did that same meeting lead to the evacuation of Denmark’s Jewish population before a planned mass extermination by the Nazis? Did that same get-together lead to a major physicist leaving Europe and coming to the US to help in this country’s nuclear program?
These, and other questions are at the center of “Copenhagen,” Michael Frayn’s Tony Award winning play, now being staged by Cesear’s Forum.
The story is told in a non-linear pattern in which physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, and Borh’s wife, Margrethe, all now dead, look back at a meeting held in the Bohr’s Copenhagen home in September, 1941.
The spirits of the three attempt to answer the question that Margrethe poses in the first line of the play: "Why did he [Heisenberg] come to Copenhagen?" Unfortunately, though the meeting did take place, there is no written or oral record of exactly what happened.
What playwright Frayn has done, is to invent a “what might have been said and what did happen marriage of ideas and suppositions.” We spend two-and-a-half hours reliving the experience which presents, debates, accepts and rejects theories that may answer that question.
Frayn feels confident in claiming that "The actual words spoken by [the] characters are entirely their own."
The core of the play is based on a speech by Heisenberg who says, "No one understands my trip to Copenhagen. Time and time again I’ve explained it. To Bohr himself, and Margrethe. To interrogators and intelligence officers, to journalists and historians. The more I've explained, the deeper the uncertainty has become."
Along the way, Frayn has Heisenberg and Bohr draft several versions of their 1941 exchange. In these flashback discussions, “they argue about the ramifications of each potential version of their meeting and the motives behind it. They discuss the idea of nuclear power and its control, the rationale behind building or not building an atomic bomb, the uncertainty of the past and the inevitability of the future as embodiments of themselves acting as particles drifting through the atom that is Copenhagen.”
Heisenberg grew up in an environment with an intense emphasis on academics, but was exposed to the destruction of World War II. He is best known for his "Uncertainty Principle." During the Second World War, despite being Jewish, he worked for Germany, researching atomic technology and heading their nuclear reactor program.
After the war, Heisenberg’s involvement with the Nazis earned him certain notoriety in the world of physicists, mainly due to the fact it is speculated that he could have given Hitler the means to produce and use nuclear arms, but intentionally or through the lack of insight into the nuclear process, did not do so.
There is supposition that Heisenberg was also instrumental in sharing knowledge of the secret expulsion of the Danish Jews, so that they could be taken out of the country and hidden.
It is known that most of the world's great theoretical physicists spent periods of their lives at Bohr's Institute. Before the war, his research was instrumental in nuclear research, some of which led to the building of the bomb. During the war, however, Bohr was living in occupied Denmark and somewhat restricted in his research. He escaped to Sweden in 1943, came to America and worked on the atomic bomb until the end of the war.
Proving the value of the theatre, Frayn’s play inspired numerous scholarly and media debates over the 1941 meeting. The Niels Bohr Archive in Copenhagen released to the public all sealed documents related to the meeting, a move intended mostly to settle historical arguments over what they contained.
The Cesear’s Forum production, under the adept direction of the theater’s artistic director, Greg Cesear, though fascinating in content and idea development, is very long. The script could have used some heavy red-lining. Fortunately, the author has “dumbed down” many of the scientific concepts so that the ideas are listener friendly, even for the non-physics informed.
The cast, who each had hundreds-upon-hundreds of lines to memorize, make the interactions conversational and realistic. Mary Alice Beck (Margrethe), Brian Bowers (Heisenberg) and Dana Hart (Bohr) each nicely texture their performances and create real people.
Kennedy’s Down Under Theatre creates a perfect setting for this script. Sitting up-close and enclosed in the natural brick façade makes the experience a personal revelation.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Copenhagen” continues Cesear’s Forum for doing small cast, high quality, thought provoking plays, that draw in a thinking crowd. Though a long sit, the play is an idea-expanding experience that is well-worth seeing.
“Copenhagen,” which runs about two-and-a-half hours, with an intermission, can be seen in Kennedy’s Down Under, in the Playhouse Square complex, on Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm through October 26, 2019. There are 3 pm Sunday performances on October 6 & 13. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org