Written by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, adapted by Michael Healey
Directed by Miles Potter
Seen June 26 2015, Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford Ontario
It speaks for the quality of the Stratford Festival that we decided to see the production of a Swiss play that when on the playbill of Vienna’s Volkstheater a few months ago, didn’t interest us in the least. We fared rather well with Brecht last year however, which also starred Seana McKenna and Geraint Wyn Davies.
The play starts with a Columboesque policeman (Randy Hughson) trying to get access to ‘Einstein’, a ‘guest’ in Fräulein Doktor Mathilde von Zahnd’s sanatorium who just strangled a nurse. Strangely another physicist inmate who thinks he’s Newton did the same just 3 months prior and it won’t be the last such incident in the course of the play.
Naturally, since this season’s motto is ‘Discovery’, nothing is as it seems at ‘Les Cerisiers’. The Physicists is surreal, funny – for which I ‘blame’ Michael Healey more than Dürrenmatt – and packs a corporate punch at the end. There was once scene where my content marketing brain screamed ‘missed opportunity’ for a production pic to intrigue potential audiences. Mild production spoiler ahead: Newton and Einstein in full costume pulling guns on each other with a hapless scientist in between was a picture to behold.It also fit the earlier line of ‘Exactly what year do you think it is?’.
Seana McKenna seems to have liked her Richard III hunchback so much, she’s back wearing one as zany psychiatrist von Zahnd. Graham Abbey is a hilarious Newton and Mike Nadajewski a quirky Einstein (until they aren’t) the lady sitting in front of us developed a major crush on. I would have liked to see more of Karen Robinson’s acerbic head nurse Marta Boll, who had some of the best lines.
Geraint Wyn Davies gets to display his chops the most. His Möbius goes from unassuming to raging lunatic to scare off his former wife, from a tender moment with a nurse to an act of desperation and from hallucinating King Salomon to being the voice of reason.
Overall it was a very enjoyable production that I only have one major gripe with: the gimmicky use of German ‘Fräulein’, ‘Frau’ und ‘Herr’ instead of miss, missus and mister respectively as well as the rather creative (=defintiely not right) pronunciations of the names. It would have made more sense to just pronounce them anglicised instead. If German native speakers need the programme to check what the names should have been, something has gone wrong.