May 9, 2003



reviewed by
Lynn Trenning













For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

If you are intrigued by particles, waves, relativity, or fission, you will be enthralled by Copenhagen, which makes its regional premiere at Davidson College’s Duke Family Performance Hall. For the scientifically disinclined, history, mystery, and academic competition are just a few of the subjects explored in Michael Frayn’s Tony Award winning play.

The three person play centers around the famous, mysterious, 1941 meeting between Danish physicist Neils Bohr, his wife Margerethe, and German physicist Werner Heisenberg in Nazi occupied Copenhagan. The play seeks to know why Heisenberg came to Copenhagen, and whether he was scientifically capable of providing the atomic bomb to Nazi Germany.

Longtime friends and professional rivals, the relationship between the physicists was impossibly comprised by World War II. Heisenberg and Bohr were pioneers in quantum physics, responsible for the Uncertainty Principle, and Complimentarity, respectively. Heady stuff. So is the fact that time is fluid in Copenhagen. The three characters are dead, and they use loosely scientific methods to act out possible theorems and proofs to determine the details of that night.

Anna Jensen excels as Margerethe Bohr. She sometimes narrates, and often plays the devils advocate. Her presence brings a human element to the scientist’s life outside of the purview of their professional pursuits. Bill Neville’s Bohr is solidly acted, as is Peter Lipsett’s Heisenberg, though both men are clearly too young for the parts.

At the core of the play is pure science vs. applied science, the nature of relationships, the joy of competitiveness, and national loyalty. Occasionally the science is overwhelming, but more often it is illuminating. It never overshadows the relationships. It is possible to believe that these friends love each other enough to stop their countries from bombing one another. It is also possible to believe they loved their countries more than each other.

Likewise, while the two men obviously reveled in their lively discussions, they also had a great deal of animosity toward each other. As in much science, more questions lead to more questions.

The play was directed in collaboration by the cast and crew. The blocking was almost perfect, leaving the three characters in full view almost without exception. The level of professionalism extended from acting, to lighting, to the nicely produced sound track that included train whistles and piano music by Beethovan. A show of this caliber is a credit to the college.

Lynn Trenning, May 15, 2003

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