The Take Away

  • Interesting story chock full of moral relativism

  • Articulate, undramatic, enraging writing

  • Stale staging

  • Beautiful set

In My Pockets

 

I am a Jewish audience member at a play about Nazi collaborators. 

 

The Design

Nick Embree’s design was my favorite part of this show. He created a set that was a beautiful homage to physicist’s models, but with enough abstraction to hold the complicated narrative. The lights (Robin Stamey) were lively and effective – often cluing me into the story’s arc more than the writing or the performances did. Costumes (Natalia De La Torre) were simple and effective.

 

Performances:

 

It must be hard to perform this kind of piece as an actor. Copenhagen is a memory play– a third of the piece is exposition. Paul L. Nolan was a solid Niels Bohr despite the script’s challenge.

Sally Mercer (Margrethe Norlund Bohr) was a standout. She beautifully overcame the disregard for her character in the writing and created the most engaging performance of the evening. Why is there a woman in this play? Outside of a two minute moment when she points out that complaining about your lost Third-Reich-supported research to a Jew might not be appropriate, Margrethe is a prop, who serves to tell us more about the fascinating men. 

 

Direction

It’s a true challenge to stage this play in a dramatically engaging way. It’s so literary and so drowning in its own explanations and exposition.

For example, because of its density and length, and partially because the script wants to move quickly, I imagine it was difficult to build spots with a slower pace. However, I wished that some moments could have landed and lingered, rather than been swept away by the next idea. There were so many times that the characters referenced an awkward silence, but silence was noticeably absent. 

In an abstracted set, in an abstracted memory, about abstract, theoretical physics, I longed to see the staging ground the story. Instead, actors mostly stood, or sat, but the staging failed to tell a story or to complicate the experience. To have these talented actors cut off from their bodies in a play so much in it’s head left the whole experience too cerebral. 

Why This Play Now?

Werner Heisenberg, is German, and Niels Bohr is a Danish half-Jew, living under Nazi occupation in Copenhagen. Through their shared passion for physics and through memory, the two (and Bohr’s wife, Margrethe), reflect on Heisenberg’s famous visit to Copenhagen in 1941. 

The play considers the ethical ramifications of scientific inquiry into fields that yield catastrophic weapons of mass destruction and it asks questions about loyalty.  Bohr tries to understand  Heisenberg’s collaboration with the Nazis. Heisenberg’s mind is churning between justification and guilt. 

At it’s core, though, Copenhagen is an intellectual exercise- a moral question for a college ethics class. The conditions for the discussion are as sterile as a lab. Two and a half hours of moral relativism is tough for a Jewish woman living in the Trump presidency to sit through.

In 2018, I question the choice to dwell on the “complicated morality” of Nazi collaboration.

Copenhagen’s highly literary, intellectual language – most of it about physics – means that it’s suitable for a very particular audience. I would probably be part of that group if I were able to look at Nazi collaboration from a comfortable distance. But I can’t. The idea of the bloodless intellectual argument between rational white men, and the superior ideas that naturally come from it belongs in the 90’s where this play was written. We’ve moved on. 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s