Presented by Flat Earth Theatre Company
By Jennifer Blackmer
Directed by Betsy S. Goldman
Dramaturgy by Regine Vital
Violence choreography by Cassie Chapados
Dance choreography by Meghan Hornblower
Language consultation by Allison Olivia Choat
Artistic ASL direction by Elbert Joseph
Trigger warning: One character is willingly committed to an asylum, misandry
Critique by Kitty Drexel
“Science and art both relentlessly pursue truth and meaning. In the past, scientific and medical procedures were performed in front of witnesses, audiences, if you will, who were able to verify the truth of what took place. For me, science and art were never at odds, and part of my overall goal as an artist is to get audiences to understand that. We still think of science and art as two separate cultures, but they’re more alike than most people realize.”
- Flat Earth Theatre interview with Jennifer Blackmer
(Watertown, MA) Jennifer Blackmer crams a lot into two hours of theatre. Delicate Particle Logic (DPL) tells the story of how Otto Hahn stole nuclear fission from Lise Meitner. He committed war crimes for the Nazis in the name of “chemistry,” and claimed the Nobel Prize in 1944… Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. DPL is about Otto Hahn’s work-wife, Meitner, his home-wife, Edith Junghans Hahn, and their imaginary friendship. Edith and Meitner’s performance of emotional and physical labor on behalf of a man holding more respect for his work than for his partners. Between the science and the toxic masculinity, there is art: glorious, painful, epiphanic art.
To paraphrase the plot: Lise Meitner (Christine Power) provides the missing scientific links to create “nuclear fission.” She joyfully shared her discoveries with her thirty-year colleague Otto Hahn (Thomas Grenon) who takes credit and the Nobel Prize for their collaborative work. Edith (Barbara Douglass), a watercolor and portrait artist who gives up her work to marry Otto, is living in a Göttingen sanatorium. We learn about Otto’s insecurities and discoveries through a visit by Meitner to Edith Hahn. They discuss their man in common, his influence on WWII, and the philosophic similarities between art and science.
As much as DPL discusses Otto Hahn, it passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Hahn isn’t a man so much as a specimen Edith and Lise are studying. We, the audience, judge his wishy washy attitude about “getting involved” in Nazi politics. The women are as objective as two humans reflecting on a friend can be. By the time we meet him, Hahn only has the power to hurt us because his actions are new information. Edith and Lise are empowered by time and space.
Power and Douglass deliver sincere, compassionate performances. They circle each other in mind and body until they come to a peaceful resolve at the production’s conclusion. They aren’t polar opposites so much as kindred spirits speaking different languages. Power is firmly wrapped in studious conviction. Douglass is as warm and generous as her room in the asylum is desolate.
Grenon displayed immaculate poise as the thoroughly disagreeable, casually negligent Hahn. In the midst of our political immorality, Hahn shines with the beige awkwardness of human mediocrity. Grenon made Hahn nearly tolerable (this is impressive). Hahn’s capacity for creative thought is impressive; his apathy in the face of intolerable cruelty is equally as impressive.
The projections by Christine A. Banna and Jenny DeMarines are fun and support the production. They have spaced them to frame the actors, not to cut them in half. That they occasionally look like dancing grapes reminds us that nature is its own greatest copycat.
The dance choreography by Meghan Hornblower is respectably platonic. The execution of Cassie Chapados was so careful that it was sloppy. It is unclear if the choreo is the issue of the discomfort of the actors. Regardless, it took us out of the scene.
The German diction coaching by Allison Olivia Choat was precise, but the actors lacked accents. Subtle moments like this (not only this) did not detract from the production, but would bring the audience further into the shared reality of Lise, Edith, and Otto.
DPL has great potential for student or traveling productions. The script captures the science without pandering to the audience. It’s emotionally and rationally intelligent. In addition, Flat Earth and Regine Vital have recorded two enlightening interviews with Blackmer and Douglas on their site. A glossary of terms such as pitch black (not the rad Vin Diesel movie) and protactinium would be a useful addition but aren’t necessary to understand the production.
Flat Earth Theatre is one of the only local theatres in the Boston-area that is ceaselessly committed to making their productions accessible. Patrons within and without the disabled community are strongly encouraged to attend. As always, please notify the theatre if you have particular needs. Flat Earth will work with the individual to understand better how they can help.
It’s still true that women must be three times as good as a man in order to get about half as far. Science has never been a “man’s world.” It has always had women in it. Men couldn’t do the work without women consistently showing up, giving of themselves and ceding credit to men. The good news, the very best news is that now women are finally getting the credit they deserve.