Three intersecting rings stand out in a circle of white, blindingly clear. The intersection reminds of other triumvirates, three powerful individuals, in an arrangement both formal and informal, equal on paper though rarely the case. The design reminds of a trefoil knot, fundamental to the study of mathematical knot theory or the multiple overlapping closed curves of the Venn diagram, representing a picture of logic. Copenhagen by Michael Frayn, presented in the inaugural season of Perisphere Theater, is a dramatic interpretation well anchored to this design, captivating in transforming a moment in history to immediate relevance.
Directed by Heather Benjamin, Copenhagen explores a 1941 meeting between two physicists, Niels Bohr, a Dane played by John Decker and Werner Heisenberg, a German, played by Ben McRae. Bohr’s wife, Margrethe, played by Sue Struve, is the buffer between the two colleagues now on opposite sides in World War II. The occasion is a dinner meeting at Bohr’s home, and the moment of arrival is cleverly re-imagined multiple times, each from a new vantage point. There is the matter of the atomic bomb, the chain reaction of one truth that may lead to others, the positioning of ‘Occupied’ and the ‘Occupier,’ and the small circle of community. Divided and out-of-touch as a consequence of war, the physics community is now courted by governments, asking for the knowledge, the ability to destroy.
The three actors perfectly manifest the roles with open thoughtful portrayals. Margrethe verbalizes the inner dialogue just below the surface. The father son relationship is edged with deep respect, competitive ambition, and moral uncertainty. John Decker is at once plain-spoken father figure and prominent scientist with educated clear-minded sensitivity and worldly demeanor. Ben McRae is energetic revealing the slippery ego of a young man with eager ambition. Sue Struve is compassionate as a listener, a mediator, and the voice of reason. The relationships between the three constantly change with the non-linear progression, shifting back and forth, overlapping anew each time.
The three actors stand in line, inches from the audience, directly in the strong and elemental lighting provided by E-hui Woo, each in an isolated monologue, deliberating, associating. Neils Bohr relives a moment of family tragedy and the lingering regrets that accompany the steady, never-ending recurring memory.
Sound Designer Edward Moser provides resonant and subtle additions; or those more marked with clarity and firmness. Costumes by Asia McCallum are detailed period perfect from Bohr’s sweater vest to the seamed silk stockings.
The awkward pleasantries of polite conversation or head-to-head disagreement remind of relationships on opposing sides, now isolated, and no longer in communication, revolving outside the orbit of a small circle of friendship. Copenhagen, with superb acting and directing, is a keen drama that spools a moment from history into the familiar dialogue of today.
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Review #1:’Copenhagen’ at Perisphere Theater by John Stoltenberg.
Review #2: ‘Copenhagen’ at Perisphere Theater by Jane Franklin.