Big Bang Theory

 

robert_oppenheimer_1946Brown University’s The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer is a winner. Every element of the production – the staging, the performances, the sound effects – is first-rate.

Jason Roth beautifully plays the famed theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who developed the atomic bomb in a secret government laboratory in New Mexico during World War 2. In the skilled hands of Roth, Oppenheimer is a brilliant and vulnerable man who laments the results of his hard work.

Oppenheimer was married to a woman named Kitty (Canning Robb) and had an affair with Jean Tatlock (Carrie Adams), a student at Stanford University School of Medicine who wrote for a Communist Party newspaper. Oppenheimer, who was Jewish, explains he had a responsibility to his country. He spent many days creating a deadly weapon of mass destruction in an effort to win the war. The FBI later investigated Oppenheimer for his alleged ties to members of the Communist party.

Meanwhile, Oppenheimer is tormented by the presence of Lilith (Caroline Sprague), a woman who reminds him of the human devastation his creation has unleashed upon the world. Sprague is a captivating presence and has a memorable breakdown scene.

Nick Healy shines as Edward Teller, a Hungarian theoretical physicist who worked with Oppenheimer and was known as the father of the hydrogen bomb. Conor Sweeney ably plays the roles of Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who has a surreal dancing interlude. It’s odd but effective.

This is an intense and fast-paced show, featuring lots of overlapping dialogue and nifty stylistic touches. Director Spencer Golub sets some key scenes on an extended wooden ramp that reaches into the audience. The test detonation of the bomb is projected on giant screens on the sides of the stage. It is a truly unsettling sight, made even more so by the production’s moody lighting and sound design.

Above all, this is an unforgettable theatrical experience that will remind you of man’s capacity to create as well as to destroy.

 The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer runs through November 13. Stuart Theatre. Brown University. For tickets, call 401-863-2838. Brown.edu/theatre

 

 

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