Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

The Physicists

Cleveland Press April 22, 1965

The Play House during the next four weeks is offering the first Cleveland performance of Friedrich Durrenmatt's "The Physicists."

It is easily one of the most stimulating plays seen here in some time and if the Play House does any pre-season revivals next fall this certainly should be one of them.

Durrenmatt is a playwright of ideas, but enough of a master of the theater to clothe them in good, playable drama. In 'The Visit" he equated justice and vengeance, offered as a credo of his faith that all mankind is corruptible.

In "The Physicists" he again is pessimistic, bitter and sardonic. Once more he offers us the world with instructions to color it black.

The play takes place in a sanitarium for the insane. A nurse has just been murdered, strangled with a lamp cord. There's no doubt as to the murderer. He's the fellow in the other room, scraping away at the violin, the one who says he is Albert Einstein.

There had been a similar murder not too long before. The fellow who did that one calls himself Sir Isaac Newton.

THERE ARE THREE insane scientists in this place. The third, Mobius, says that he speaks with King Solomon every day.

The hospital is run by a hunch-backed, female doctor.

Are the three physicists really insane? Two of them, it is revealed are agents for world powers as well as true scientists. The third has evolved formulas that could bring about the end of the world, and it is he the two agents are after.

DURRENMATT PLAYS around with these mystery elements, posing new mysteries as he unravels old ones.

Nor is he afraid to inject comedy into his grim drama.

But all the time he is building up to his moral disapproval of our nuclear peril and he poses his dilemmas.

ONE OF THEM is that scientists must find a way to take back their knowledge. But he cancels this out with another dilemma, that something once thought cannot be unthought.

"Only in the mad house can we be free, one of the scientists states, arguing that today it is the duty of a genius to remain unrecognized.

But locking up all the scientists in padded cells is too easy a solution for Durrenmatt, improbable though it is.

Those thoughts that can not be unthought are still floating around, remember, and the playwright gives his drama one last grim twist to show how they are capable of destroying us.

The elements of mystery will not be revealed here -- the reasons for the murders, the trick ending that some may find too bizarre but is a perfectly logical one in keeping with Duerrenmatt's pessimistic philosophy.

WILLIAM PATERSON has a splendid time as Newton, wearing a long red wig, striding about, sometimes sane, sometimes mad.

Bob Moak with bushy hair and mustache as Einstein is genuine with his puzzled expression of an absent minded professor. Robert Snook is the man who speaks with Solomon and is moving as he envisions the hopelessness of the world.

The playwright has only sketched in the role of the doctor but Edith Owen gives as much life as possible to it. As one of the nurses, Patricia Elliott comes across as the only connection with normalcy on stage.