Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, October, 1998

D.J. McDonald and Jennifer Johanos have done a great deal of work and research on the life and times of J. Robert Oppenheimer in creating their multimedia piece “Oppenheimer 2.0”, playing this weekend only at the Manic Stage. And therein lies the problem with this fascinating piece. Unless you too have an intimate knowledge of Oppenheimer’s life, you may find the evening confusing and frustrating.

The one thing everyone knows about J. Robert Oppenheimer is that he is credited with the invention of the atomic bomb. It was his bomb that brought an end to World War II when the U.S. dropped it on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It brought an end to a war that had taken thousands of lives. And it brought an end to the lives of thousands more innocent people in the process. It gave mankind an awesome power to destroy – on that has weighed on our global collective conciousness ever since.

McDonald and Johanos’piece examines what effect this world changing invention had on Oppenheimer himself, as well as his colleagues at Los Alamos. McDonald has staged and choreographed the piece beautifully. It is fascinating visually, and the topic is one people are guaranteed to have feelings and opinions about.

But McDonald and Johanos can’t see the forest for the trees. The piece would speak much more clearly to the audience if the Brechtian device of projected titles and quotes was used. There is a slide show of scenes from Los Alamos and the U.S. atomic tests in the New Mexico desert projected behind the actors during much of the show. Interrupting those images periodically with words which would help the audience place and define the action would be of great help.

This truly is a multimedia piece – combining theatre, music, dance, and the slide images. The fine cast of three men, three women, and a young boy brings a vast array of skills to the project – from juggling to sign language to dance to a mean Groucho Marx impression. It is worth the price of admission just to watch them work their way expertly through the highly stylized maze of this production.

Once again, I must applaud the Manic Stage for bringing fresh and exciting new theatre to north Berkshire, and for giving a venue to the extremely talented artists and performers who live in this area. Whether or not this is a perfect production, it is challenging and thought provoking, and has been given a polished production.

“Oppenheimer 2.0” runs this weekend only, through October 18, at the Manic Stage, 55 Main Street, North Adams. Call 662-2323 for tickets and information. The Manic Stage is adjacent to Zoies restaurant, and dinner/theatre packages are available.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999

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