Introducing Copenhagen

I first saw Copenhagen in its premiere production at the National Theatre in London. I must admit I went somewhat reluctantly; the descriptions I’d read of the play made it sound like rather dry pseudo-biography. I was therefore amazed at the strength of my emotional reaction to the production. Michael Frayn’s play is not only beautifully crafted and intellectually provocative, it’s also deeply and surprisingly moving.

We included Copenhagen in our 07/08 season for several reasons. First and foremost, it’s a great play, that deserves a fresh look almost ten years after its Broadway run. It’s also perfect for the A.R.T.’s resident company; Will LeBow will play the Danish scientist Niels Bohr, Karen MacDonald his wife Margrethe, and John Kuntz (in his A.R.T. debut) the German Werner Heisenberg. And third, it provides us with a starting place for a conversation about the arts and sciences that I hope will last many years.

We’ve already had invaluable contact with our colleagues in the History of Science department at Harvard, notably the distinguished historians Gerald Holton (who has written extensively about the play) and Peter Galison, who is teaching Copenhagen this semester (in fact Karen, John and I will be visiting Peter’s lecture course next week, where we’ll be reading excerpts from the play and discussing it with his students.)

Gerald and Peter are both great fans of the play, but have also pointed us to us that much more is now known about Heisenberg’s famous visit to Bohr in Copenhagen – the event around which the play is based. Frayn did not have access to all the available records, and in fact there are some fairly significant errors in his account. But this in no way diminishes the power of the play, indeed it may even make it more interesting to produce. In any case, I know that our production, and the involvement of our colleagues from Harvard, will stimulate much healthy debate. We’ll keep you posted as our plans for the show develop.

-Gideon Lester


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