DelicateParticle Byrne1 Photo JohnFeld

Delicate Particle Logic: Indra’s Net Theater, Berkeley

above: Teressa Byrne (Foss) as Lise Meitner – Photo by John Feld

Teressa Byrne (Foss) as Lise Meitner (l) Janet Keller as Edith Hahn (r)
Photo by John Feld

Provocative Delicate Particle Logic

World Premiere of Delicate Particle Logic by Jennifer Blackmer, directed by Bruce Coughran, presented by Indra’s Net Theater, is a play about science based on real people and achievements – the groundbreaking work of Otto Hahn, a 1944 Nobel Prize winning chemist, Lise Meitner, one of the most brilliant physicists of the 20th century, and Edith Hahn, an artist married to Otto.

While science and the inequality of women in science is the driving force of this story, the underlying themes of each woman’s relationship to Otto – as wife and colleague – and Blackmer’s inventive unfolding friendship of both women late in life bubble to the surface, and become the most intriguing part.

Set in Edith’s Room in Berlin, soon after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Professor Lise Meitner (Teressa Byrne) visits Edith (Janet Keller) and proclaims “Wasn’t the Nobel Prize enough to resurrect German science?” highlighting the importance of politics and international zeal to lead the world. From this moment a series of flashback scenes and returns to Edith’s Room recreate memories and interpretations of Otto Hahn’s life (Michael Kern Cassidy), working with Meitner, and his marriage to Edith.

This captivating memory play covers a lot of ideas and events – not least splitting the atom, the role of women in marriage, society and science, and abstract expressionism. Byrne and Keller are an outstanding duo in their scenes and carry Blackmer’s intriguing story forward into emotional and thought provoking terrain. In one scene, Meitner is curious about motherhood when meeting Edith’s new born son as much as Edith is curious about her work with atoms and ‘the bomb’.

Meitner is a fascinating multi-dimensional character. Byrne is a revelation throughout the play and especially outstanding as she works excitedly through her calculations resulting in splitting the Uranium nucleus. Her huge achievement and the strength she found in this moment is even more poignant when Byrne cradles her joy in her arms, like a baby.

Keller’s Edith is strong, vulnerable and very curious, with emotions ranging from remotenesss to fierce bitterness, compellingly drawn by Keller’s earthy believability. Trusting and mistrusting – she has a tormented mind with the capacity to beautifully weave together ideas from science, art and humanity, through her memory, impressions and illusions.

Michael Cassidy as Otto Hahn (l) and Darek Burkowski (r) as Colleague
Photo by John Feld

Cassidy’s Otto Hahn is suitably formal in demeanor as he builds his successful career and socializes with eminent colleagues. Yet Cassidy also shows an empathetic side – in different measures to Meitner and Edith – of a tightly drawn man dedicated to science. Jeff Garrett and Derek Burkowski deftly play five different characters each, with an accent or two that could be firmer.

Coughran employs slick transitions, imaginative use of space and an attractive, minimal set, consisting of six large paintings in gray, beige and white tones and three chairs (Set Design by Lili Smith), to move this story forward through several different locations. Effective Lighting Design by Beth Hersh includes exquisite narrow focus on abstract moments of the play. The Costume Design of the time period by Beckie Pelkey and Sound Design by Scott Alexander support the production well.

A lobby display provides a detailed timeline of important international scientists and physicists, information about nuclear fission, Kandinsky and abstract expressionism – and even an actual electroscope, similar to the one that Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner used to measure radioactivity!

Indra’s Web Theater successfully takes the audience on a meaningful journey of discovery through an important scientific achievement and time that is surprising in its emotional depth and impact. Bravo!

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Jo TomalinOriginally from England Jo Tomalin is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is a reviewer for Dance & Theatre at www.ForAllEvents.com & www.FringeReview.com - she works in the performing arts as a freelance movement & voice specialist, director + actor. She is also a Professor in the School of Theatre & Dance at San Francisco State University, teaching Movement for actors, Voice, Storytelling, Business of Acting and Acting and directs. Jo Tomalin studied Classical Acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), London; and holds a teacher's diploma (ATCL) in Voice and Acting from Trinity College of Dramatic Art, London. She studied Classical Ballet for 12 years; Graduated from London University's Laban Centre Teaching Credential program in Modern Dance, Art of Movement & Choreography; Trained in Physical Theatre, Masks, Scenography and Devised theatre at the renowned professional acting school "Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq" Paris, France. Jo holds a Master of Science degree in Educational Technology from Boise State University and a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Instructional Design for Online Learning from Capella University, MN.View all posts by Jo Tomalin →