When Time Magazine named Albert Einstein the Person of the (Twentieth) Century, it was recognizing, among other things, the crucial role that theoretical physics plays in our lives, our history, and our understanding of the universe. But in addition to Einstein, there were other physicists that played key roles in this revolution, including Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg.

Photo of Douglas Harmsen as Heisenberg and John Hutton as Bohr
Douglas Harmsen as Heisenberg
and John Hutton as Bohr
Photo by Terry Shapiro
At one time, Bohr served as Heisenberg's mentor, father figure, and co-collaborator in solving many of the riddles of Quantum Theory. When World War II broke out, however, they found themselves in enemy camps: Bohr, a half–Jewish Dane living in occupied Denmark, and Heisenberg, a German heading up the Nazi atomic bomb project. In the throes of the hostilities, they met in Copenhagen in 1941. What was discussed, and not discussed, in that conversation had a great effect on the outcome of the war, the implications of which still reverberate today.

In the Denver Center Theatre Company's current production of Michael Frayne's Tony Award-winning play, Copenhagen, Heisenberg, Bohr, and Bohr's wife Margrethe (who was present throughout the entire history of Heisenberg and Bohr's relationship, and who understood, in layman's terms, the theoretical questions the pair discussed) work out the meaning of this fateful meeting.

Photo of John Hutton as Bohr and Robin Moseley as Margrethe
John Hutton as Bohr
and Robin Moseley as Margrethe
Photo by Terry Shapiro
Director Anthony Powell's abstract staging elucidates how the seemingly difficult concepts of relativity, uncertainty, and complimentarity work in human relationships. John Hutton, as Bohr, exudes the gravity and well-measured consideration intrinsic to the man considered the grand arbiter of physics. Douglas Harmsen's Heisenberg convincingly reflects the formality, self-confidence, and relentlessness of the German wunderkind. Robin Moseley, as Margrethe, lends many shades of kindness, intelligence, and criticality as the only outside observer of the goings-on.

Photo of John Hutton as Bohr and Douglas Harmsen as Heisenberg
John Hutton as Bohr
and Douglas Harmsen
as Heisenberg
Photo by Terry Shapiro
At its core, the play is a trial of Heisenberg and his motives for coming to Copenhagen. Is he trying to find out the state of the allies' nuclear program? Has he come to parade his lofty position before his one-time master? Has he come to warn Bohr of what is to come to Denmark and its Jews? These questions are not easy to answer, yet as evidenced by a recent letter released by Heisenberg's family, the reputation of one of physics' bright lights is still in the balance.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Copenhagen runs through May 10th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows


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