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Performance Network scores direct hit with intellectual drama
It is an historical fact that a private meeting took place in Nazi-occupied Demark between two of the 20th century’s greatest nuclear scientists. The men – Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr – had at one time been colleagues and friends, but World War II found them on opposite teams: Heisenberg was in charge of developing the atom bomb for the Third Reich, while his mentor Bohr was a half-Jewish Dane whose efforts eventually helped the Allies succeed where the Nazis failed.
What has long puzzled scientists and historians alike is this: What did the two men discuss during their short evening together back in 1941, and what impact – if any – did that conversation have on the war’s outcome?
Much has been theorized and speculated, of course; statements and later clarifications by both men after the war only muddied things further.
So playwright Michael Frayn did the next best thing: He crafted a thoroughly intelligent and insightful drama that uses the written record as its underpinning to speculate on what propelled Heisenberg to visit Copenhagen.
Although it’s impossible to know for sure just how close Frayn came to what actually occurred during that fateful visit, theatergoers who attend “Copenhagen” at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network will surely go home afterwards with much to consider.
Frayn’s story is set in the afterlife where the two Nobel Prize-winning scientists meet to finally resolve their longstanding differences. This is no ordinary visit, however; what starts out as a somewhat awkward reunion quickly takes on the semblance of Perry Mason mystery in which the testimony of the accused is slowly dissected until – at the end – the ultimate truth is revealed.
Although beautifully crafted, “Copenhagen” is a “talky” show that some might find boring. (On opening night, a handful of fidgety people disappeared at intermission.) But those who bravely wade through the reams of technical jargon and scientific data – much of it in fairly plain English, it should be noted – will be rewarded with an intensely human drama about two men who are confronted by a moral, philosophical and scientific dilemma, the results of which could change the world forever.
And, ultimately, did!
With its totally engaging production of “Copenhagen,” the Performance Network once again scores a direct hit with a drama that – under lesser hands – could be a bomb of a non-atomic kind.
Director Gillian Eaton briskly moves the play along without getting bogged down in the story’s scientific minutia. It is inventively presented on and around a small raised circular platform that is placed atop a painted triangle; the audience is seated along all three of its sides. Those sitting on what is traditionally the Network’s stage are provided an up-close and personal account of the discussion; it’s almost as if they are watching it from a jury box.
Excellent performances are given by Robert Grossman (Bohr) and Malcolm Tulip (Heisenberg). Both superbly and convincingly convey the emotions their characters are feeling. Watch especially their eyes; rarely will you observe two such highly skilled actors who are so totally in-synch with each other – both as their characters and as fellow actors in the midst of their craft.
Also wonderful is Susan Marie (Berg) who plays Bohr’s wife, Margarethe, whose function it is to challenge the scientists’ recollections while guiding their discussion towards its final resolution.
Copenhagen Presented Thursday through Sunday at Performance Network, 120 E. Huron, Ann Arbor, through April 13. Tickets: $22.50 – $27.50. (734) 663-0681. http://www.performancenetwork.org Rating: Highly recommended.
Review: ‘Wait Until Dark’
Old fashioned thriller keeps Meadow Brook audiences on edge of their seats
In their efforts to constantly shock and titillate their audiences, television and film producers have lost an art that Alfred Hitchcock perfected decades ago: it’s not WHAT you see that truly scares you; it’s what you DON’T!
That’s why nuggets such as the psychological thriller “Wait Until Dark” can be so refreshing.
Now playing at Meadow Brook Theatre in Rochester Hills, the Frederick Knott drama isn’t perfect; there are enough holes in the plot to drive a fleet of semis through. But the suspense is so well conceived – and in the case of Meadow Brook’s production, so well executed – that it’s easy to forgive the script’s overall flaws.
While on a business trip to Montreal, photographer Sam Hendrix (C.W. Gilbert) is asked by a woman to deliver a doll to a hospitalized child in New York City. He agrees – his first mistake – but when a woman shows up at his apartment to claim the doll, he can’t find it. (For those keeping score, this is possible plot problem #1; what happened to the doll is telegraphed very early on in the story which takes away a little of the suspense.)
What Sam doesn’t know is that the doll is filled with heroin, and the evil Harry Roat, Jr. (Wayne David Parker) is antsy to get the doll back at all costs.
So a plot is hatched by the smuggler and two hired cronies (David L. Regal and Thomas Gebbia) to lure Sam away from home with a fake photography shoot, hoping that while he’s gone, his wife Suzy (Julie Marie Paparella) can be convinced to give up the drug-filled toy.
The three villains underestimate their mark, however; Suzy might be blind, but she’s not stupid.
How she unravels their very intricate pack of lies is fascinating to watch; how she gets out of her predicament – if at all – is in doubt right up until the end.
Director Edward G. Smith has once again worked his magic on the Meadow Brook stage. Most riveting is his staging of the intensely dramatic final ten minutes of the show which is guaranteed to keep theatergoers on the edge of their seats.
“Wait Until Dark” boasts an impressive cast, especially Parker as the cold and cunning villain.
Wait Until Dark Presented Wednesday through Sunday at Meadow Brook Theatre, Rochester Hills, through April 13. Tickets: $19 – $38. (248) 377-3300. http://www.mbtheatre.com Rating: Recommended.