This last weekend, I was profoundly surprised by the three-person play Copenhagen directed by Professor of Theater Robert Baker-White. Here was an example of not just excellent, but, at least to my relatively untrained eyes, professional-quality acting completed by none other than three students – two sophomores and a senior.
That’s not to say that the experience was solely about the actors. On the contrary, the play itself was a gripping meditation on life, death, loyalty, guilt and friendship, all set in the context of a quasi-post-death conversation between two legendary German physicists, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, and Bohr’s wife, Margrethe. At its start, the play was a simple mystery: Why did Nazi-allied Heisenberg come to Copenhagen in 1941 to converse with the Ally-sympathizing Bohr family? However, as the story moves forward, and the implications of the real reason for the visit are unveiled, it becomes much more existential – a reflection on the fortuitous accident that kept Germany from winning the war. If the plot of Copenhagen seems complicated or incomprehensible, that’s because it is. Indeed, the frequent jumps between time frames, characters and even status of life made the piece difficult, sometimes almost impossible to totally follow. But despite the narrative sometimes being lost to the complexity of the written text, the respective actors managed to display the emotional qualities of the characters in luminous fashion.
Mia Hull ’17 played the supportive but frustrated Margrethe Bohr. Her characterization rung with the complex mixture of love, admiration and bitterness you could tell that this woman must have had for her husband and his work. Likewise, the self-assured, but not-quite self-convinced Heisenberg by Russel Maclin ’17 made that man’s life seem all the more tragic, establishing understanding, even dare-I-say empathy for the prominent Nazi scientist. But the sure star of the show was Matthew Conway ’15 who filled the paternal role of Bohr with the depth and complexity of a career performer. Never letting his audience pin Bohr down, and never letting us like or hate him too much, Niels seemed the most real of a play full of well-drawn characters, an achievement almost certainly due to the richness, vivacity and complexity Conway lent to his characterization of the physicist
And so, when the curtain closed and the two-hour play came to an end, I felt as if I had learned more than just about the state of affairs of German physics in the middle of World War II, or the human struggle that goes into any sufficiently-advanced scientific innovation. I felt like I had a better understanding of just how remarkable a place our College is – of how talented, and how unbelievably successful our students are, even at those things you might not expect them to be good at. And so, while Copenhagen closed its three-night run last weekend, I would urge everyone reading this to go out and attend the events put on by our theater department. You’ll be amazed at what your friends can do.