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Copenhagen exhilarating

Dec 21 2009
Bill Hirschman | Sun-Sentinel

Like particles in a chain reaction, shards of physics, politics and passion ricochet around the tiny stage at Palm Beach Dramaworks as Copenhagen provides one of the most exhilarating theater-going experiences of 2009. If you're seeking mindless passive fare, this isn't it. Michael Frayn's masterpiece about scientific responsibility, friendship and the impossibility of knowing anything will require you to engage your mind, dive into intellectual waters and thrash around fearing you'll drown. Not only is this superbly acted and directed work "not everyone's cup of tea," it's guaranteed to outpace anyone's brain several times during the evening. But this production surpasses the 2000 Broadway edition because the underlying flux of passions is more evident. That makes the play more accessible whether you understand the physics or not. In fact, you do not need to know a thing about quantum mechanics (although your enjoyment will be multiplied if you do) because all the science is just an extended metaphor for quite familiar mysteries of the heart and mind... ...Frayn's script -- and the actors' skill -- effortlessly dump truckloads of exposition that would choke any other play. Far from a tweedy lecture, this is a diamond brilliant and gymnastically agile exercise. J. Barry Lewis' direction is breath-taking in its painstaking detail. Never self-conscious, Lewis' work is phenomenal in his pacing, his movement of the actors, and above all, his leadership in mining and illustrating the meaning of each moment in the script. The acting, too, is full-bodied and compelling as crystalline minds capable of divining the secrets of the atom cannot discern the secrets of their own motivations. While the audience may frequently be left in the dust by Frayn's profligate verbiage, you never doubt that the actors know precisely what they are saying or why. No ballet corps executes dizzying pirouettes as elegantly or intricate footwork as skillfully as this trio. The design team's work is first-rate, but Todd Wren's ever-shifting lighting not only sets the mood, but subtly focuses your attention -- plus delivers a stunning surprise in the second act that he and Lewis insert in a script that is solely dialogue.