Great strides, great show

Rob Skolits, Cary Barker, Ken Baltin
(From left) Werner Heisenberg (Rob Skolits), Margrethe Bohr (Cary Barker), Niels Bohr (Ken Baltin) in a more cordial moment in "Copenhagen" at the Vineyard Playhouse. Photo by Lynn Christoffers

By Anna Marie D'Addarie - August 9, 2007

Just because they can, does it mean they should? A simple question can become very complicated when it is applied to the heady world of scientific research. In the case of the play "Copenhagen," the new offering at the Vineyard Playhouse, playwright Michael Frayn asks the question using the framework of a famous meeting between two theoretical physicists, Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, which took place in 1941. No one knows what actually took place at that meeting of two great minds, but by using the event as the framework for his play, Mr. Frayn allows the audience to make up its own mind.

The play is so well structured that the past, the distant past, and the future slide comfortably back and forth (and back again) taking the audience on a cerebral ride. The director, Jon Lipsky, gently moves his trio of actors in a smooth, methodical way, allowing the scientific dialogue to be digested. No fussy stage business or overdone set comes between the play and the audience in this production.

The set is draped in pale colored fabric. You know there is furniture under the fabric, but very few actual pieces are ever used. Stephen M. Zablotny's set draws all our attention to the three characters.

Cary Barker plays Margrethe Bohr, wife of Niels Bohr, and has the job of ringmaster, at times providing exposition, rewinding the story, and acting as a kind of referee. Ms. Barker does it all beautifully. Her fluid performance is strong enough to stand between these two men of science and hold her own in every way. Ms. Barker's Margrethe isn't just the little woman behind the great man.

Ken Baltin is wonderful in the role of Niels Bohr, the father of quantum theory. He looked and acted the quintessential scientist with complex data pouring from him like a professor on the first day of class. The audience, his new students, are in awe, but never lost. Rather, Mr. Baltin takes us by the hand through the play, and we are treated to a famous walk with Niels Bohr.

The father of the Uncertainty Principle, Werner Heisenberg, is played with passion by Rob Skolits. No uncertainty here. Mr. Skolits gives us a strong character who loves his country, Germany, as much as his work. In some ways he surpasses his mentor, Dr. Bohr, especially by asking the difficult question of whether his former teacher feels responsible for the Hiroshima deaths since he, Dr. Bohr, helped build the Atomic bomb.

Is it coincidence or careful planning that "Copenhagen" is running during the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing? Director Lipsky said in a press release, "The brilliance of this play is that it resonates on so many levels." The quote must have been taken early in the rehearsal process because I feel the brilliance of this play lies in a trio of fine performances that leaves the audience asking questions of science and society. Don't question it. Go to see this play.

"Copenhagen" runs Tuesday through Saturday, until August 18. Curtain times and ticket prices vary. There will be a special 3 pm matinee on Thursday, August 16. For more information call the box office at 508-696-6300 or visit