By Friedrich Dürrenmatt
Translated by James Kirkup
Directed by Paul Luby
Starring Alex Koohyar, Harry-John Shephard, and Josh Melendez
Seminole State College
Lake Mary, FL
Science on stage is always a dicey proposition: Too much detail and you drive the audience to sleep, not enough and what are you hoping to accomplish in the actual science department? We have here a lecture on scientific responsibility in the sense of “Don’t go looking into a field of physics that might kill a bunch of people.” A noble thought, but practically not very feasible.
We spend the evening in a classy mental ward staffed by attractive female nurses and the idealistic yet hunchbacked psychologist Fraulein Doctor Matilda Van Zandt (Kristina Bartholomew). Names are long and full of hard consonants; this was a Swiss play written in German and it shows. There are only three patients: Herbert George Beutler (Melendez) who thinks he’s Isaac Newton, Ernst Heinrich Ernesti (Koohyar) who thinks he’s Einstein, and Johann Wilhelm Möbius (Shephard) who thinks he’s himself, but pretends to get regular visits from King Solomon so he can hide among the insane. Actually, Beutler really thinks he’s Einstein as well, but he doesn’t want to offend Ernesti, so he’s doubled up with a more classical physicist. The three spend their time killing off attractive female nurses, all of whom are athletes with medals in judo and wrestling. Local police inspector Voss (Xander Burns) wants Von Zand to hire male attendants; he thinks this would cut down on his paper work. In Act Two several beefy male boxers arrive to keep things calm, some black shirted guards appear, the food gets worse. Now nothing is as it seems. These seemingly happy inmates are now stuck and they bare their souls; all regret that the search for the truths of modern physics has lead to war, and their side might lose.
Like an old science fiction novel, this is a story that was once edgy and thought provoking. But today we realize that while nuclear weapons are pretty darn evil, it doesn’t take much more than acetone and peroxide to blow up a subways station. The dialog here is stilted and lengthy; you often want to fast forward though the excessively formal middle names. Melendez is the brightest point of light, he’s foppish when others are goose stepping and funny when others are depressed. Mr. Koohyar seem sad to be Albert Einstein; while the math was hard he was a rock star in his day and has lots of awards and laws with his name branded on them. Mr. Shepard never seemed genuinely mentally ill, but his earnestness is endearing. These three are the heart of the story; everyone else seems to only exist to set up these three’s lines. When the black shirts arrive the result is inevitable although not set up very well. A world exists outside of this asylum, and that’s where the evil really lies: in the hands of those with an agenda that will use whatever it can to beat down the opposition. Perhaps this is a parable for today’s world situation; but it needs to pick up the pace.
For more information on the Seminole State College Theater program, please visit http://www.seminolestate.edu/arts/theatre/boxoffice.htm