ALERT!!! MORE really good things to see onstage in Boston! First, brush up your physics and prepare to play with Schrodinger’s cat as you head over to Central Square Theater in Cambridge (Catalyst Collaborative@MIT Programs) to take in one of my favorite plays, Michael Frayn’s brilliant COPENHAGEN! This is the best production of the play in recent memory, and it once again blew my mind.
The play is set in a parallel universe or after life, and involves scrutinizing an inscrutable meeting between physicists Werner Heisenberg and his mentor Niels Bohr who part ways after a famous meeting in Copenhagen, 1941, involving the moral implications of these pioneers of atomic theory working on nuclear fission and its use in developing “a weapon.” This production has been mounted in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the dropping of that weapon,the Atomic Bomb, on Hiroshima.
In this three-person plus one pianist play, the truth of what happened in that meeting takes shape in various “drafts” of reality by the participants from their “after the fact” vantage point. Eric Tucker sleekly directs to reflect these shifting realities, observed and unobserved by the participants who also have divided loyalties as Jewish physicists in warring countries at the height of WWII. Like the theory of relativity meeting quantum mechanics, there may be no “unified field” of truth to reconcile the fissure that occurred in the relationship; what precisely was said and heard is “uncertain,” but the resulting ripples from the split have had infinite consequences and have been in dispute ever since.
Though the set is but three chairs and a piano, this esteemed cast, Steven Barkhimer as the paternal Bohr, Robert Najarian as “whiz” kid Heisenberg, and Debra Wise (Artistic Director Underground Railway Theater) as the deeply insightful Margrethe Bohr rivet our attention as they deliver reams of metaphorically-laced, overlapping dialogue at warp speed, dodging and feinting, skewering and parrying, trying to avoid melt-down, until seemingly irreconcilable but possibly complimentary realities are the only certainty in an uncertain reality. Don’t make me repeat that.
Han Nah Son plays pieces by Brahms and Beethoven which pianist Heisenberg might have played, and she does so at key moments that perfectly pitch the mood. See COPENHAGEN in repertory through November 15, along with Wesley Savick’s EINSTEIN’S DREAMS (starring the same cast!) through November 14.
Then you might take in the always cheery OTHELLO, Shakespeare’s tragedy of an “odd” couple, she a young wealthy Venetian, he a noble warrior Moor, who though a general, is still a dark outsider; they are madly in love but are torn apart by the jealousy of a murderous climber. Actors’ Shakespeare Project has given us a viscerally satisfying, thematically uncluttered, and accessible production. We feel every beat of the surface tale despite the sometimes awkward staging (the homicides especially in the bed chamber felt clumsy and cramped), the shadowy, utilitarian set, and a less than truly sinister and insinuating Iago (John Kuntz).
But Johnnie McQuarley is noble and gripping as Othello; he is a marvel of power and vulnerability. The bard’s metered phrasing falls easily from his lips, every scintilla of meaning and sound fully felt and conveyed. McQuarley is almost transparent as he channels his confusion, his shifting thoughts and emotions, a towering soul visibly torn apart by desire and betrayal as he tries to reconcile what he sees and feels with what he’s being led to believe and what might have made him ripe for such manipulation.
As Desdemona, Josephine Elwood is equally at ease with the language and brings a feisty innocence to the part, at first plainly ignorant of the web she’s unwittingly helping to spin, then fiercely resistant right up to her final horrifying moments. See ASP’s OTHELLO at THE MODERN THEATRE at SUFFOLK UNIVERSITY through October 25!