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San Francisco by Richard Connema

San Francisco's Best of Broadway Series Offers
Copenhagen at the Curran Theater

Also see Richard's review of Much Ado About Nothing


Michael Frayn's Copenhagen has opened at the Curran Theatre as part of the Best of Broadway series. It boasts a superb cast of Len Cariou, Mariette Hartley and Hank Stratton. This is my second viewing of the intellectual thriller. I saw the production at the Royale Theatre in New York in June, 2000, with the original cast of Philip Bosco, Blair Brown and Michael Cumpsty. This new cast is just as good as the original and, in fact, some are more natural in their acting. I found this production brighter, sharper, stronger and more real than the New York production.

Copenhagen is inspired by actual events that have intrigued and baffled historians for more then 60 years. There was a covert meeting in 1941 between two brilliant physicists, Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr. They were long-time friends whose work together opened the way for the atomic bomb, but were on opposite sides of World War II. During this time, Werner Heisenberg made a mysterious visit to his former teacher, Neils Bohr, in Nazi occupied Copenhagen. Little is known about that meeting, but this play gives some idea of what could have happened: Heisenberg was trying to warn his old friend of a German atomic bomb or perhaps recruit him for the Germans, or perhaps the German scientist was hinting at trying to slow down the atomic bomb program either because of virtue or ignorance. Many historians agree that this pivotal meeting was a defining moment in the modern nuclear age.

Tony winning director Michael Blankmore has created a brilliant play of psychological investigation and a moral tribunal. Though the two men often debate faster than a layman's brain can comprehend, the rhythm of the play and the wordplay are outstanding. The three actors keep the audience on their toes by moving around the stage. Mr. Frayn's words skillfully blend the dense, murky, cerebral material with a moral humanity.

Len Cariou, who plays Danish physicist Niels Bohr, is more natural than Philip Bosco. Mr. Cariou looks and acts more like a scientist; his actions are more realistic. He creates the right balance for Hank Stratton who plays Werner Heisenberg. Mr. Stratton is amazing as the German physicist and his speech on walking through the bombed out sections of towns in Germany is heartfelt. Completing the trio is Mariette Hartley as the wife of Niels Bohr. She underplays her role beautifully. Ms. Hartley is tolerant but sardonic in the role and she is able to bring the discussions of the two men down to earth so the audience can follow the action. Ms. Hartley has a passage in the second act that sums up the whole drama. "Some questions remain long after their owners have died. Lingering like ghosts. Looking for the answers they never found in life."

The scenic design is the same as New York, an abstract set that consists only of a bare circular space with a few chairs. On platforms at the rear of the stage is a seating area for a few audience members who look down on the proceedings as if they are a jury.

If you want to see a well-written, intelligent drama performed by a superlative cast, go see Copenhagen. It plays through February 3 at the Curran Theatre. Tickets range in price from $34 to $68 and are available at the Orpheum Theatre Box Office on 1192 Market Street at 8th and the Curran Theatre Box Office at 445 Geary Street. They are also available through Ticketmaster at (415)512-7770 and all Ticketmaster ticket centers, or at www.ticketmaster.com. For groups of 20 or more, call (415)551-2020.

The next productions in the Best of Broadway series is Kiss Me, Kate, which opens on February 5 at the Orpheum Theatre. It runs through March 3. Also, Ann-Margret stars in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, opening at the Golden Gate Theatre on February 12 and running through March 3. Call (415)512-7770 for tickets or visit the box offices of the Orpheum Theatre or the Ticketmaster outlets.


Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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