Friendrich Durrenmatt’s The Physicists, as translated by James Kirkup, is a delightful and silly play filled with intrigue, science, and murder, all leading up to an incredible plot twist that will make the last fifteen minutes of reading go by even faster.
The play takes place in an insane asylum and follows three patients, all nuclear physicists. New arrivals Herbert Beutler and Ernst Ernesti believe they are Newton and Einstein respectively, while long-term resident, Johann Mobius, believes he is visited by King Solomon. After another (yes, you read another) nurse is murdered, the authorities are at their wits end with the madhouse; the lead psychiatrist, Dr. Mathilde von Zahnd, is forced to tighten security by bringing in new, male nurses to serve as guards. As the patients begin to get restless one night, they reveal their true selves and have a conversation that could end up changing the world…
The play is fast paced and incredibly humorous. The plot twist at the end, while not unexpected, is masterfully executed with precise and cutting dialogue. Each character is well-written in both their identities; the dual natures of ‘Einstein’ and ‘Newton’ give Durrenmatt lots of room to have fun. Time and place are minimally important in this show, which only heightens the emotional and comedic power of the scenes and characters. A masterful play, and accessible to every audience regardless of someone’s familiarity with physics.
Reviewed by: Meghan Barrett