- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

Actor Len Cariou knows that nuclear theories aren't melodramatic catnip to today's theatergoer. Mr. Cariou stars in the touring production of playwright Michael Frayn's Tony Award-winning play "Copenhagen," which tells the quasi-true tale of two towering World War II-era physicist rivals scrambling to unlock the secrets of nuclear weaponry. The play runs through March 24 at the Kennedy Center.
Mr. Cariou, who portrays Danish scientist Niels Bohr, says the production's complications must be burdened by its cast.
"The problem that both [co-star] Hank [Stratton] and I had was making the stuff accessible to an audience," Mr. Cariou says of the characters during a phone interview from a tour stop in Chicago. "They're very passionate men. Their minds go a mile a minute."
The play's structure part of it is told several times through the eyes of its three main characters allows audiences to slowly digest the material.
"If you miss it the first time, you'll get it the second or third time," says Mr. Cariou, who toured the District two years ago in Neil Simon's "The Dinner Party."
Audience members aren't the only ones a bit confused at the outset of the play, which extrapolates upon real characters and events surrounding the creation of the atomic bomb.
"It was so almost treatiselike," the 62-year-old actor says of the script. "I wasn't that good in science when I was going to school."
Despite its heady nature, "Copenhagen" offers its own dramatic rewards, which convinced Mr. Cariou that he should aggressively pursue the part.
Gone are the days when the Canadian-born actor would wait to hear an interesting role had suddenly become available. He got burned too often watching his zealous peers snare roles, often pushing past him in the process.
He didn't let that happen when he read "Copenhagen," which began its life at England's Royal National Theatre in 1998.
"I read it and thought it would be really tough to do, but interesting," he says. He told his agent to pursue the role if it moved stateside.
When the production reached Broadway, actor Philip Bosco landed the role of Niels Bohr, the part Mr. Cariou sought. Mr. Bosco had worked with the playwright on his earlier hit, "Noises Off," and seemingly had first crack, Mr. Cariou says.
When the prospect of a national tour came up, Mr. Cariou arranged to meet with Mr. Frayn to personally lobby for the role.
"You owe me one," he told Mr. Frayn, who laughed but later agreed.
Mr. Cariou says he understands the motivations of the play's two main characters better than the dialogue's scientific underpinnings.
"I'm a little upset with the fact that he wants to talk about nuclear weapons," he says of his character's relationship with Mr. Stratton's Werner Heisenberg. "But as a physicist, it makes perfect sense. I'm working on it myself."
Work is nothing new for the versatile actor, who finds frequent roles on Broadway and in motion pictures and television.
A Tony winner for his lead turn in "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," Mr. Cariou also earned nominations for "Applause" and "A Little Night Music."
He can be found on the small screen in episodes of "Murder, She Wrote," "The Practice" and "Law and Order," among other teledramas.
On screen, he's been seen in 1981's "The Four Seasons," 1996's "Executive Decision" and, most recently, in 2000's "Thirteen Days" with Kevin Costner.
He recently wrapped "About Schmidt," in which he shares screen time with Jack Nicholson.
"I play his best buddy," Mr. Cariou says. "It turns out he's had an affair with [Mr. Nicholsons] wife, and he finds letters she's kept."
He massaged the shoot in between his last "Dinner Party" tour.
"There are times when you have to pay the rent and you haven't worked in a while," he says of his many nontheatrical gigs. Television and film provide "quick money," giving him the flexibility to pick and choose his projects.
"Copenhagen" remains his choice through May, after which he has no plans as of yet.
The play's performances carry a meatier tone in the wake of September 11 and the recent acrimony between nuclear powers India and Pakistan.
"Since 9/11, this play … has a resonance it didn't have when it was written," he says.
Minus current events, though, "Copenhagen" offers enough intellectual quagmires for audiences to mull.
"If you look at the play," Mr. Cariou says, "You say, 'This didn't really solve anything.'"
That's just what the playwright intended.
"He gives us all the information we need, and the audience all the information they need," he says. "It's a puzzle. You have to solve it."


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