Charity Jones is Hapgood
(Photo: Ann Marsden)
Charity Jones is Hapgood
(Photo: Ann Marsden)
"I don't understand this mania for surprises," says a Russian scientist about spy novels in Tom Stoppard's Hapgood. "If the author knows, it's rude not to tell. In science, the ending is understood: What is interesting is to know what is happening."

But for playwright Stoppard, mystery is precisely the point of Hapgood -- a foray into the strange world of espionage, filled with deceit, trickery, and game-playing. Intelligence work, in Stoppard's view, is like quantum physics: an enigma. What you see isn't necessarily what you get. According to modern physics, light can appear as either a particle or a wave, depending upon how you look at it. And the very act of observing electron particles changes how they appear.

Hapgood, like all of Stoppard's work, relies on clever word and eye play to address philosophical, literary, and scientific theories within the confines of a very specific story. Comparing physics with catching a double agent, the character Kerner -- played by Phil Kilbourne in the production now on view at The Jungle Theater -- says, "The act of observing determines what's what. You get what you interrogate for." While many find the play cerebral and complex, others view it as a gigantic puzzle full of wit, allusions, and clever puns. Interestingly, the script of Hapgood is often used as a study tool for quantum mechanics courses.

Set in Cold War England, the play combines quantum physics and international espionage in a complicated plan by secret service officer Elizabeth Hapgood (Charity Jones) to expose a double agent who is leaking scientific research to Moscow. Everyone is suspect as the plot spins itself into a world of triple crosses, lookalike spies, lovers who don't make love and adversaries who do. The scheming between antagonists finally culminates in the kidnapping of Hapgood's young son, whom she must personally rescue.

Director Bain Boehlke, artistic director of The Jungle Theater, conveys the characters' estrangement and alienation from the world, moving the actors like a chess master at endgame. The scenery, designed (also by Boehlke) in varying shades of gray, carries through the game-like metaphor. Ominously large set units, also suggestive of game pieces, move eerily in and out of place to the accompaniment of Roberta Carlson's suspenseful and haunting violin music. (Complications with the set caused a one-week postponement of the show's opening.)

A Cold War drama set in a post-Cold War era may seem a little dated. It's almost hard to remember what the fuss was about. But for contemporary audiences in a terrorist-filled world, what resonates most is the idea that spies are like electrons. As one character says in comparing the two, "Its movements cannot be anticipated because it has no reasons. It defeats surveillance because, when you know what it's doing, you can't be certain where it is, and when you know where it is, you can't be certain what it's doing."