The Best Thing You Can Do Today? Give your mind a workout in Copenhagen — the Tony-winning drama by Michael Frayn (Noises Off) now being realized beautifully in a production by Tampa Repertory Theatre today at 3 and next weekend from Thursday-Sunday.
Granted, the historical question at the core of the play has probably not been preying on your mind much: Why did the German nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg (famous for his “uncertainty principle”) travel to occupied Denmark in 1941 to meet with his former mentor, Niels Bohr? And the dialogue — dense with electrons and cloud chambers and physicist name-checks (Einstein! Schrödinger! Lots more names not as famous!) — can be a challenge to keep track of. Plus, we’re meeting the two scientists and the other key character in this three-person drama, Bohr’s wife, Margarethe, long after their deaths, so as they ponder that central conundrum their memories and the play’s time frame leap backward and forward.
But believe me on this: You will be engrossed from beginning to end, because the actors — Ned Averill-Snell, Christopher Marshall and Ami Sallee — not only convince as powerful intellects, they’re also so grounded in the underlying history of their relationships that we see the three as fully rounded, complex human beings with passions and egos and troubled souls as well as big brains. Thanks to the precise and sensitive direction of Emilia Sargent (whose Director’s Note is among the more eloquent I’ve ever read), we’re never bothered by the shifts in time and place. And the really big questions at the heart of the play (and of Heisenberg’s mysterious visit) — When do the demands of morality trump the imperatives of science? What is objective truth when all of our perceptions are inevitably subjective? What if Hitler had gotten the bomb before the U.S.? — will stay with you long after you’ve left the theater.
Go out for a drink afterwards; you’ll want to share your uncertainties.
Copenhagen, through Jan. 20, Tampa Repertory Theatre, Studio 120 in the Theatre Center (TAR), University of South Florida, 3837 USF Holly Drive, Tampa. Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 3 p.m., tamparep.org.