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Copenhagen Examines the Moral Compass of Scientists in the Middle of a World War

(L-R) Philip Hays as Werner Heisenberg, Celeste Roberts as Margrethe Bohn and Joel Sandel as Niehls Bohr in Copenhagen.
(L-R) Philip Hays as Werner Heisenberg, Celeste Roberts as Margrethe Bohn and Joel Sandel as Niehls Bohr in Copenhagen.
Photo by Blueprint Film Co.
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Philip Hays says he's always had a kind of hobbyist interest in physics and the great scientific minds. So it was a natural fit when Main Street Theater Rebecca Greene Udden asked if he'd consider taking a role in Copenhagen, the Tony-award-winning play about real life scientists Werner Heisenberg of Germany and Niels Bohr of Denmark.

Heisenberg and Bohr hd worked together in the 1920s making instrumental advances in our understanding of atomic science. But with the arrival of World War II, they fell on different sides.

Surprisingly enough, given that Heisenberg had a great love for his country, the German traveled to Copenhagen in 1941 to meet with Bohr. No one has ever known exactly what the two said to each other – which gave playwright Michael Frayn an enormous creative opening in his play.

“Copenhagen is a metaphysical investigation of what might have happened that day,” Hays says. “Because it was surely the end of their friendship and in many ways kind of a turning point for their careers.” Heisenberg ended up disgraced and a pariah after the war and Bohr escaped and ended up working with the Allies on their nuclear program.

But the play should attract audiences for other reasons as well, Hays says.

"It’s not just about World War II and grand scientific ideas. It’s about the moral choices we make. This happens to be an extreme situation. As a scientist what is the moral thing to do," Hays says. "For Heisenberg in particular,  he has great love for his country but the issue remain unclear whether he was fully a supporter of the Nazi regime. And how do you do the right thing when you are confronted with something like that, an extreme Fascist dictatorship? Is the right thing to denounce it or is there a way to do good within it?

"Or the question remains in the play, is he just backpedaling after the fact? What do you do in times of crisis and how do you prove you were standing up for the right thing?"

The Main Street Theater production is directed by Guy Roberts with Philip Hays, Celeste Roberts and Joel Sandel in the lead roles.

Performances are scheduled for February 11- March 12 at 7:30 p.m Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Main Street Theater, 2540 Times. For information call 713-524-6706 or visit mainstreettheater.com. $36-$45. ($20 under age 30).

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