- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

Washington playwright Victoria Danos says she always found J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, to be a "haunting figure."
Ms. Danos' play "The Blue Eye of Robert Oppenheimer" opened the Baltimore Playwrights Festival Thursday at the Fell's Point Corner Theatre and will continue in production there through July 7.
Mr. Oppenheimer headed the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb. Later, his loyalty was questioned when he opposed development of the hydrogen bomb and was accused of having communist sympathies. He lost his security clearance, but the Atomic Energy Commission gave him its highest honor, the Enrico Fermi Award, in 1963 for his contributions to theoretical physics.
The play is set in New Mexico's Los Alamos Laboratory during the years when the atomic bomb was built,1943 to 1945. Mr. Oppenheimer is depicted in his mid-30s as the heroic, sacrificial director of the Manhattan Project.
The world of physics is not new to Ms. Danos, a writing tutor and playwright whose works have been performed at the Source Theater Festival.
After graduating from college with a degree in English, Ms. Danos spent two years working in publications at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Nuclear Physics. There, she became interested in the effects of nuclear power on contemporary life and also in key figures of the Manhattan Project. She also married the late Michael Danos, a nuclear physicist, who further introduced her to the physics community during the 20 years of their marriage.
"I felt I knew that community very well," she says. "I never felt even back then that there had ever been any kind of portrayal that did [Mr. Oppenheimer] justice. I wanted to analyze [him] and bring out appealing aspects of his character while at the same time looking very objectively at the light and dark aspects of what he did, which was to be the science adviser for the program that developed the atomic bomb."
Ms. Danos began writing "The Blue Eye of Robert Oppenheimer" in mid-1996. Two years later, the play was roughly finished; however, there still was work to be done.
"There's just a massive amount of material associated with the event and the person," Ms. Danos says. "I had to determine what to keep and how to focus the play, so that took the next two years. My goal was to present an analytic picture of him that had veracity and yet which did not portray him as a pipe-smoking, eccentric man. I felt there was more to him than that, and I think my play does a good job representing that."
The "old physicists," those of the World War II years and before, fascinate the playwright.
"They had a very noble, stately demeanor. I tried to bring to my play some idea of the very high-minded mentality of the physicists of that era," she says. "They thought about all they were saying. If they made a joke, it was very witty. They didn't speak spontaneously, off the top of their heads, but were always trying to stay ahead of themselves mentally."
Her play, directed by Barry Feinstein, can be seen at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays. Chris Graybill stars in the title role. Tickets cost $10 to $12. For reservations, call 410/276-7837.
Other plays in the festival's summer series are "Connections," by Devorah Namm, July 5 through 27; "The Whispers of Saints," by Mark Scharf, July 11 through 28; "Amanda's Line," by Kathleen Barber, July 12 through 27; "Short Stops," by Michael Cookson, July 18 through Aug. 4; "Cannibals," by Emilio Iasiello, July 26 through Aug. 11; "OK, OK," by Gene Gately, Aug. 1 through 18; "Watching Lotus Flowers Blossom," a sequel to last year's best-play winner, "Memorial Day," by Chuck Spoler, Aug. 2 through 24; "A Certain Mystery," by Brad Rogers, Aug. 9 through 25; and "Interstices," by Kermit Frazier, Aug. 23 through 31. Locations vary.
For more information, call 410/276-2153.

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