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The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer

a Atlanta Premiere
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by Carson Kreitzer

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 1221

SHOWING : March 17, 2005 - May 07, 2005

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Actor’s Express presents The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Carson Kreitzer. J. Robert Oppenheimer-- the man who built the bomb--meets a mythical femme fatale, confronts soldiers and spies; cocktails and Communists; women and war. Thurs. – Sat., 8pm; Sun., 2pm or 5pm. Call for Sunday show times. Mar. 17 – May 7. $10.75 - $26.75. Actor’s Express at the King Plow Arts Center, 887 West Marietta St. 404-607-7469. www.actors-express.com.


CAST & CREW LIST
Stage Manager Rita Ann Marcec
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REVIEWS

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Disturbing the Universe
by Dedalus
Monday, April 25, 2005
4.0
J. Robert Oppenheimer was one of the most interesting Cold War figures in American History. A leader of the Manhattan Project, which developed the first Atomic Bomb, he later became estranged from Senator Joseph McCarthy’s HUAC investigations for distancing himself from the “practical application” of his work.

Lilith, according to Jewish mythology, was the first wife of Adam, created at the same time, spurned for wanting parity with him, vowing to prey eternally on the descendants of Adam and Eve.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is T.S. Eliot’s evocation of a man spiritually paralyzed by the constant attention and criticism of humanity.

In “The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” playwright Carson Kreitzer brings these three disparate elements together in a coldly moving, intellectually exciting theatrical event, well-presented by Actor’s Express. In her play, Kreitzer has Oppenheimer center stage, debating Lilith on his actions, his life, and his regrets. We see a small group of actors play all the people in Oppenheimer’s life, sometimes becoming a “Prufrockian” chorus of “human voices” trying to drown him with accusations and petty gossip.

Occasionally, the collusion of these three elements is a bit awkward, as if Ms. Kreitzer were compelled to include all her research, whether it fits or not. At one point, Oppenheimer quotes Eliot’s line about being a “pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas” for no purpose other than to show he and the playwright know the poem. And, the Prufrockian connection can be a bit strained – Oppenheimer, unlike Prufrock, is never paralyzed by humanity’s gaze, but stays steadfast in his beliefs and actions. While this could have made an interesting contrast justifying the allusions, this is underdeveloped by the script.

That being said, this production belongs to John Ammerman and Tess Malis Kincaid, who make the Oppenheimer/Lilith debates compelling and moving. Ms. Kincaid spends most of the play behind the audience, dressed in body suit and make-up suggesting primitive mythologies and archetypes. She is filled with Primal Passion, Anger, and Judgment. Ammerman, conversely, is almost completely non-emotional. He is the rational archetype, the scientist and thinker who can find beauty in his colleague’s design for the Hydrogen Bomb upgrade while regretting the appalling uses it will be built for. He is in complete denial about his own effect on those he loves, refusing to acknowledge his mistress as more than a friend, even as he drives her to suicide and his wife to alcoholism. It is this conflict between the rational and the archetypically spiritual that makes this production so compelling, so memorable. The only time the play really falters is at the top of Act Two, when Lilith and Oppenheimer are offstage, and we are subjected to a long and pointless monologue by Edward Teller (at least I think it was Teller) as he shaves.

The supporting cast (Jeff Feldman, Theo Harness, Rachel Roberts, Joe Sykes, and especially Kathleen Wattis) bring their multiples roles to exciting life, but, it is Ammerman and Kincaid who are the focus and engine that drive this play.

There are many amazingly effective theatrical moments here – The test explosion at Los Alamos, the connection between an Oppenheimer relative lost in the Nazi camps and a victim of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the Jenga-Like manipulation of certain radioactive elements in the prototype weapons. But, again, the most theatrical element is the interplay between Oppenheimer and Lilith.

When I was an undergraduate, I made a Super-8 movie of Eliot’s “Prufrock.” Watching it now, I am appalled at the pretentiousness of some of my images and structure. Kreitzer’s play, similarly, has the same undergraduate feel of an exercise in pedantry and intellectual debate. But when presented by such formidable actors in a such a brazenly theatrical mounting, the pretentiousness becomes sublime.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)



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