The Physicists | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Physicists 

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THE PHYSICISTS, Sliced Bread Productions, at the Viaduct. It makes sense that this is the second recent production of Friedrich DŸrrenmatt's 1962 cold-war parable: as long as bioengineering and germ warfare can be turned against us at the drop of a theory, this cautionary tale deserves a hearing.

Two physicists representing the free world and the Soviet bloc have committed themselves to a private asylum, where they impersonate Newton and Einstein in order to steal the secrets of a third scientist, Mobius (the charismatic Paul Hertel). "A genius and therefore common property," he's discovered the lethal "principle of universal discovery"--and discarded it because he believes that, in a world where atomic theory yields atomic bombs, the "duty of genius is to silence itself." The sardonic ending implies that the only good scientist is a mad one.

Though DŸrrenmatt pads some of the characters and includes some deceptive exposition in the first act, this Sliced Bread staging by Sid Feldman and Wm. Bullion (who also plays the unflappable Newton) keeps the playwright's dramatized editorial playful and persuasive. Still, a brisker pace would vitalize the plot turns and the mounting paranoia. Karolyn Shapiro has fun with the truly demented role of the sanatorium supervisor. Equally amusing is a second-act quiz-show spoof that dramatizes the central dilemma: how to keep science free and responsible when people are not.

--Lawrence Bommer

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