article from the Naperville Sun
September 16, 2011
Elgin’s Vex presents ‘Copenhagen’
By Annie Alleman For Sun-Times Media
The play “Copenhagen” brings to
light an intense behind-the-scene human drama that could have changed the course
of history forever.
Brilliant physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg were friends and
colleagues who suddenly found themselves on different sides of World War II.
“Copenhagen” explores an infamous meeting between the two burgeoning nuclear
physicists in 1941.
The Vex Theatre Company presents the Tony Award-winning play by Michael Frayn at
8 p.m. on Sept. 16-17 and 23-24; and at 3 p.m. Sept. 18 and 25 at the Elgin Art
Showcase, 164 Division St., Elgin. “Copenhagen” is directed by Michael Albrow of
Naperville, a physicist based at Fermilab in Batavia.
It stars Steve Blount of Wheaton as Niels Bohr, Susan Able Barry of Carol Stream
as Margrethe Bohr and Geoffrey Maher of Arlington Heights as Werner Heisenberg.
Albrow was excited by not only the intriguing characters of Bohr and Heisenberg,
but also by the subject matter: atom bombs, quantum mechanics and the
“It’s all about a meeting that took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, during the war
between Bohr, who was a famous professor there; and Heisenberg, who … was in
Nazi Germany,” Albrow said. “It’s an attempt at a historical reconstruction.
They’d both been working on atomic physics and quantum physics before the war.
They had been good colleagues. We know this meeting took place between them, and
they went for a walk because probably Bohrs’ house was being bugged by the
Gestapo, but the question is what did they talk about? Because clearly if Bohr
had said anything to Heisenberg about the Allied nuclear atom bomb program, or
if Heisenberg had said anything to Bohr about the German program, that would
have been treasonable. So why did he go to see Bohr? It was a very risky thing
“The questions was, was Heisenberg trying to build a bomb for Hitler or not? One
of the key points about the play is, it could have gone differently depending on
what they said to each other,” Albrow said. “Imagine if Bohr had told Heisenberg
something about the bomb program, and Heisenberg had gone off to build a bomb
What did the two scientists discuss? They both survived the war, and were able
to recount a differing version of events of what transpired at that famous
meeting in 1941.
“The play is about the uncertainty. It’s a very interesting play; it’s very well
written. The dialogue is brilliant. It’s very cerebral. It’s sort of a ‘what
if?’ What if things had gone differently? What if they had had a different
conversation? Maybe history would have been different. Obviously, if Hitler had
gotten hold of an atom bomb, history would have been quite different.”
Albrow first saw the play in London about 10 years ago, where it ran for nearly
“I saw that play and thought as a physicist, it would be just great to put this
play on at Fermilab,” he said.
He has been a member of the Wheaton Drama Guild since coming to the States 20
years ago. He presented the play to the guild, and they performed it at Fermilab
as a reading last spring.
There are only three actors in the play, so it doesn’t require big sets.
Afterwards, he was contacted by Vex Theatre and asked if he could put the show
on for the Elgin Art Theatre as a full production.
“I think it certainly appeals to physicists, but you don’t have to be a
physicist to appreciate it,” he said. “It’s really got something for everybody —
everybody interested in history or physics or even psychology.”
He promises one need not be a student of science to understand the play. As a
physicist, the play understandably excited him because he was familiar with the
scientists the characters discuss — he had even been taught by one at
“It certainly is something, the psychology of it and the human side of it comes
out very well,” he said.
The juxtaposition of being a scientist by day and a thespian by night isn’t lost
on him. He finds that acting is a stress-reliever.
“What I find is, it’s a refreshing hobby because the people who tend to hang
around suburban theater — they’re a fun crowd, I enjoy that. It’s a different
crowd of people,” he said.
This is first play he directed, and he’s enjoying himself immensely.
“I’m very lucky to have three very good actors,” he said.
Audiences can expect a “fairly intense” show.
“They will want to listen carefully,” he said. “It’s really in the dialogue.
It’s not static. The actors are moving around. They will get a great deal out of
it. It’s a long play — the first act is an hour and 20 minutes. When we tried to
shorten it, we couldn’t. Every line seemed important.”