Regional Reviews: Seattle
Also see David's review of Blast!
One cannot accuse playwright Michael Frayn of repeating himself. In his widely known and loved theatre farce about the theatre Noises Off, Frayn creates a comic whirlwind out of witty wordplay and farcical situations. His more recent play Copenhagen is a somber, static rumination on what really may have happened between two key players in the race toward nuclear power in WWII. Copenhagen is long on talk, short on action and, despite strong efforts from two of the three actors in Seattle Rep's production, a turgid and tiresome theatrical event.
Copenhagen's two key characters, German quantum physics master Werner Heisenberg and Danish atomic expert Niels Bohr, as well as Bohr's wife and assistant Margarethe, meet in the afterlife (on a handsome, abstract set designed by Kent Dorsey) to try to lay to rest a potentially fascinating historical question. On Heisenberg's visit to Bohr in 1941 during the German occupation of Denmark was Heissenberg on a mission to obtain information from his old mentor Bohr which would hasten the Third Reich's atomic capabilities, or was he effectively aiming to undermine Germany controlling such deadly powers? The real Bohr and Heisenberg's latter day accounts of the meeting, which ended abruptly, differed greatly, so Frayn attempts to give us different versions of the event to choose from. The playwright does nothing wrong in leaving what happened to our imagination, but his three characters never involve us emotionally, and although some of the questions the play raises are undeniably thought provoking, too much of it is dramatically inert, a problem exacerbated by Richard E. T. White's tediously paced direction.
Laurence Ballard is his always highly watchable self as the enigmatic Heisenberg and plays him in a way that suggests he probably was a man with enough of a conscience that he might do what he could to keep the Nazi regime from wreaking further havoc with acquired atomic powers at their disposal. Raye Birk as Bohr mines what humor there is in Frayn's script, while creating a benevolent yet pragmatic figure. Marianne Owen as Margarethe has an underdeveloped role which she brings to life only for a few moments late in the play.
Michael Chybowski's impeccable lighting design, coupled with Dorsey's splendid set are the two most overwhelmingly successful ingredients of the production, which largely wastes three very talented actors on a script that is best likened to an undercooked Danish pastry.
Copenhagen plays at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer Street, Seattle Center, through October 26. For further information visit the Rep's web-site at www.seattlerep.org.- David-Edward Hughes