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It's tricky to say much more about The Physicists' plot without ruining its surprises.
The physicists’ library
Indeed, much of the first act is misdirection — though Miles Potter's production would be more fun if he didn't misdirect quite so much of it. It's not easy to stomach the serial murder of nurses as little more than a running gag — but it might be easier if they weren't sexualized in Gillian Gallow's costumes. And at the matinee I saw, the comic timing was a little less than Swiss at first — with some over-the-top emoting that was simply irritating. I couldn't wait for Mobius's weepy ex-wife, played by Jane Spidell, to exit, though I wished her dim-witted, heavy-lidded missionary husband, played by Sean Arbuckle, had stuck around.
Bear with the few stretches that are more head-scratching than rib-tickling and Durrenmatt's play and Potter's production come into focus as Wyn Davies's pathos-filled performance as Mobius takes charge. By the second act, everyone's up to his level, with Abbey's nasty Newton and Nadjewski's limber Einstein spinning around Wyn Davies's nutty nucleus.
Without giving too much away: Mobius is revealed to have checked himself into an asylum because he believes his physics discoveries are too dangerous — and rulers from around the world of all political stripes want a strip off of him. We're in Dr. Strangelove territory here in a play written in the shadow of the Bomb. Healey's adaptation based on a translation by Birgit Schreyer Duarte takes some stabs at making Durrenmatt's mutually assured destruction-era madhouse relevant to our own — adding nods to NSA surveillance and a very amusing joke about nanotechnology that seems to imply that Margaret Atwood's remote signing device, the LongPen, might have a future as a spy weapon.
In the end, however, the idea that science is too dangerous for humanity feels more than a little satirically out of date. If only our governments, corporations and people hungered for cutting-edge scientific research now they way the did when Communism and capitalism were at each other's throats. You get the feeling that Stephen Harper's Conservatives, in particular, would be on board with the idea that scientists, such as Mobius, should lock themselves up, and that ignorance is bliss.
The Physicists remains thoughtful theatre, certainly — but Durrenmatt's Cold War argument does not transfer easily to the era of global warming. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way.
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David Hou. Mobius pretends to be violently insane, cursing the family and throwing a coffee table, so that he cuts ties with his family and spares them any further pain from trying to have a relationship with a madman. Nurse Monika reveals that she is in love with Mobius and wants to run away with him.
The previous two murdered nurses also fell in love with a "physicist," and Monika is murdered like the others for getting too close. Again, he can do nothing because Mobius is insane. A series of revelations follow. Newton reveals to Mobius that he is in fact a secret agent named Kilton, who faked insanity in order to infiltrate the villa. His mission is to bring Mobius and his great scientific discoveries back to his country for military purposes.
Similarly, Einstein reveals himself to be a secret agent for another country, Eisler, who has pretended insanity for the same reason. It turns out that Mobius also merely pretended to be insane, but for a different reason: In the era of nuclear weapons, he wished to hide his dangerous scientific discoveries from a world that might destroy itself with such knowledge. While both Newton and Einstein urge Mobius to side with them and share his discoveries, Mobius convinces the men to keep the knowledge hidden for the benefit of mankind and continue to pretend insanity.
The Physicists (Part One)
In a final revelation, the matronly Doktor reveals herself as the only insane one, one who truly does receive visions of King Solomon. She has manipulated the physicists, and has secretly gathered all of Mobius's knowledge for herself by copying his manuscripts. She plans to conquer the world per Solomon's commands using this knowledge. The physicists are doomed to a sane life in the madhouse, while the Doktor continues her insane plans in a world that thinks she is sane.
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