How do we come to an understanding of things? The modern person breathes with an arrogance of mastery over the inner-workings of reality. When a modern audience encounters the questioning of this understanding what do they do: They doze off! At least, this was the reaction of a handful of patrons at the Indiana Repertory Theatre when faced with one of the most intellectually important scenarios presented to history in the Twentieth Century.
Glen Pannell (left) as Werner Heisenberg and James Edmondson as Neils Bohr in "Copenhagen," written by Michael Frayn and directed by Paul Barnes. It continues at the Indiana Repertory Theatre through Dec. 22.
Michael Frayn"s Copenhagen captures the meaning and effect of a timeless relationship between Nobel Prize-winning Niels Bohr, his wife, Margrethe, and German Physicist Werner Heisenberg. In a surreal manner, Bohr and Heisenberg grapple with the nostalgia of their past, couple it with WWII era politics and state of the art physics, coming full circle to the implications of their ends: the Atomic Bomb. Using Margrethe as an independent witness, the three engage in a delicate discourse of politics, compassion, morality and history. IRT"s production is masterful in every way. The set, designed by Scenic and Costume Designer Michael Ganio, illuminates a dark but enchanting dream state while adding various visual elements that bring a degree of reality to the ambiance. Consisting of minimalist patterns, Ganio"s set successfully demonstrates the play"s dichotomous theme by way of smooth and rough surfaces. One glance at this remarkable display brings one into the core of Copenhagen. Under the debut direction of Paul Barns, the actors become the thoughts, words and beings of Neils, Margrethe and Werner. James Edmondson (Neils Bohr) dominates the performance space with an undeniable hold on, not only his character, but also the glue between the narrative"s friendships and themes. Giulia Pagano (Margrethe Bohr), Glen Pannell (Werner Heisenberg) and Edmondson synchronize with each other in a defining exploration of the philosophical meanings behind Frayn"s Tony Award-winning masterpiece. Sadly, the man to my right, the woman in front of me and half of the fifth row sat, eyes shut and snoozing. Perhaps the audience"s response to Frayn"s glorious work is, in itself, a statement of our times. This play, setting out to demonstrate the wonder of philosophical morality in front of an historical and political backdrop, does not appeal to a present, and perhaps local, culture. A culture, I might add, which pretends to know it all. Copenhagen continues at the IRT Upperstage through Dec. 22; call 635-5252.