The Common Reading Experience 2009-2010

About Copenhagen

Scene from Copenhagen
Bridget Besaw Gorman for The New York Times
Michael Cumpsty, right, Philip Bosco and Blair Brown in a scene from the 2000 Broadway production of Copenhagen.

“The Tony Award—winning play that soars at the intersection of science and art, Copenhagen is an explosive re-imagining of the mysterious wartime meeting between two Nobel laureates to discuss the atomic bomb...

... In 1941 the German physicist Werner Heisenberg made a clandestine trip to Copenhagen to see his Danish counterpart and friend Niels Bohr. Their work together on quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle had revolutionized atomic physics. But now the world had changed and the two men were on opposite sides in a world war. Why Heisenberg went to Copenhagen and what he wanted to say to Bohr are questions that have vexed historians ever since. In Michael Frayn's ambitious, fiercely intelligent, and daring new play Heisenberg and Bohr meet once again to discuss the intricacies of physics and to ponder the metaphysical -- the very essence of human motivation.”

— From the publisher, Random House.

Did you know?

Heisenberg and Bohr
AIP Niels Bohr Library
Werner Heisenberg (left) with Neils Bohr (right)
  • Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg were both Nobel Prize laureates in physics. Bohr won his in 1922 for his services in the investigation of the structure of atoms and of the radiation emanating from them. Heisenberg won his ten years later in 1932 for the creation of quantum mechanics, the application of which has, among other things, led to the discovery of the allotropic forms of hydrogen.
  • Copenhagen won three Tony Awards for its 2000 - 2001Broadway production: Best Play; Best Featured Actress in a Play (Blair Brown); and Best Direction of a Play (Michael Blakemore).
  • There are no stage directions in Copenhagen, only the dialogue to be spoken by the actors. Michael Blakemore's concept for the staging of the play suggests "a scientific experiment in uncertainty" with the actors as "busy particles, circling around the nucleus during rehearsals until they feel ready to be seen. The audience acts as photons, shining the light of their attention onto the actors, and something that has been rehearsed a hundred times is magically altered by the impact." Schewe, Philip F. "Re-Creating Copenhagen at CUNY Symposium." APS Physics. 22 June 2009 .
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