Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Oregonian Review of 'Oppenheimer'

Here is Richard Wattenberg's review of IN THE MATTER OF J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER:

"'Oppenheimer' a thought-provoking production Stage - Northwest Classical Theatre Company's take on the fact-based drama is sharp

Thursday, April 06, 2006

RICHARD WATTENBERG
The Oregonian

Does history repeat itself? It's a question you might ponder after taking in Northwest Classical Theatre Company's taut production of Heinar Kipphardt's 1964 documentary drama "In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer."

Kipphardt's play is freely adapted from transcripts of the 1954 United States government investigation into whether Oppenheimer, the driving force behind the United States' development of the atom bomb and a key adviser to the government on atomic affairs during the early Cold War, had intentionally obstructed American efforts to create the hydrogen bomb. With Joseph-McCarthy-like anxiety about Communist infiltration of our government running high, some in government agencies such as the Atomic Energy Commission saw Oppenheimer as a "red" sympathizer and thus a dangerous threat to our security.

The play explores the connection between free thought and patriotism as well as the role of the scientist with respect to government policy. No simple conclusions are offered, but if you substitute "terrorist" for "Communist" it's easy to see why the debate over national security and individual freedom is so explosive today.

This 13-actor production is squeezed onto the little Shoe Box Theatre stage, where the performers seem cramped and their blocking often a bit awkward. But director Fred Walton keeps the dialogue flowing smoothly. Most importantly, his performers skillfully delineate the characters' conflicting perspectives.

As Oppenheimer, Greg Alexander gives the production a solid center, playing the role with a low-key, controlled intensity: While his Oppenheimer is clearly engaged in the discussion, he maintains the kind of emotional distance which is less arrogance than patient thoughtfulness.

The government prosecutors, played by Aron Farrar and Matt Haynes, are interpreted as young, occasionally overaggressive attorneys. The judges, members of the Atomic Energy Commission's Personnel Security Board, appear to be more cautious. Especially strong here is Richard Reiten, who plays the genuinely dismayed and troubled Ward V. Evans, the board's one physicist, who also happens to be the most sympathetic to Oppenheimer's position. A talented group of Portland theater veterans take on cameo roles as the various witnesses brought before this board."

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