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Becoming Adele

Strings

This inventive play about scientists in love, starring Keir Dullea, holds the audience's attention.

By New York City
Drew Dix and Keir Dullea in Strings
(© Sun Productions, Inc.)
Drew Dix and Keir Dullea in Strings
(© Sun Productions, Inc.)
As unlikely as it may seem, advanced theoretical physics has been the inspiration of a number of dramas in recent years, from Tom Stoppard's Arcadia and Michael Frayn's Copenhagen to String Fever and The Uncertainty Principle. Now, the Open Book Theatre Company continues the trend with Carole Buggé's inventive new play, Strings, at the 78th Street Theatre Lab.

As the play begins, three physicists are waiting for a train to London, where they are planning to see a production of, all things, Copenhagen in the West End. June (Mia Dillon) gets cozy on the platform with her lover Rory (Warren Kelley) until her husband George (Keir Dullea) arrives. En route to their destination, secrets are revealed, advanced theories are discussed, and the space-time continuum is broken as Isaac Newton (Drew Dix), Marie Curie (Andrea Gallo), and Max Planck (Kurt Elftmann) advise the characters about everything from science to religion to love. And that's only the first act. The second takes place with the characters on the same journey in an alternate reality.

Even with the heady themes, the play is always accessible, holding the audience's attention through the strength of Buggé's writing and characterizations. She finds funny, unusual ways to illustrate such difficult concepts as subatomic forces, Uncertainty Principle, String Theory, M-Theory, and Schrödinger's Cat. This show is nothing if not comprehensive in its approach to presenting the many ideas and controversies surrounding contemporary physics. However, in an attempt to leave no theory unexplained, the show also resorts to lectures, diagrams, and presentations more often than should be necessary.

Indeed, Strings is at its strongest when concentrating on the humanity of its characters. We discover that two of the characters are coping with a tragedy involving September 11, and their faith in God and the commitment to their relationship had been shaken ever since that date. The revelations about the infidelity play out in funny, moving, and unexpected ways.

Marvin Kaye directs the show briskly and guides his cast well. Dillon has an easy charm as June, juggling two men while coping with personal tragedy and disappointment; Dullea plays George as a man who is likely to be cuckolded, since he's undemonstrative and averse to excitement; and Kelley portrays Rory as a Stoppardesque, lascivious academic.

The historical figures that appear provide comic relief in the form of ethnic shtick. Dix plays Isaac Newton as a quintessentially British coxcomb, who never tires of talking about the advancements he achieved. Gallo tends to talk like zees as Madame Curie, and is remarkably genteel and graceful for a woman who willingly exposed herself to deadly radiation for the benefit of science. Elftmann's Planck, who speaks with an accent thicker than bratwurst, is cool-headed and practical.

For all its focus on science, the show also contains an implicit comparison to the Holy Trinity and a ménage à trois, and the first act ends in a spontaneous poem that takes an erotic turn. Despite its potentially dry subject matter, Strings knows how to push the envelope.


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