The curtain rises again at Hatbox Theater in Concord

  • Wayne Asbury (seated) as Werner Heisenberg, James Sears as Niels Bohr, and Amy Agostino as Margrethe Bohr will perform “Copenhagen” at the Hatbox Theatre, opening Friday. Courtesy of Hatbox Theatre

  • James Sears of Portsmouth as Niels Bohr and Wayne Asbury of Peterborough as Werner Heisenberg as Margrethe Bohr will perform "Copenhagen" at the Hatbox Theatre, opening Friday. —Courtesy of Hatbox Theatre

  • James Sears of Portsmouth as Niels Bohr and Amy Agostino of Londonderry as Margrethe Bohr will perform "Copenhagen" at the Hatbox Theatre, opening Friday. —Courtesy of Hatbox Theatre

  • James Sears of Portsmouth appears as Niels Bohr in "Copenhagen" at the Hatbox Theatre, opening Friday. —Courtesy of Hatbox Theatre

  • Wayne Asbury of Peterborough appears as Werner Heisenberg in "Copenhagen" at the Hatbox Theatre, opening Friday. —Courtesy of Hatbox Theatre

Monitor staff
Published: 7/22/2020 5:00:43 PM

The theater, quiet for months, is ready. The actors have learned their lines by rote. The director has adjusted placement, making sure to keep space between cast and audience.

The only uncertainty that remains is: If you build it, will they come?

Hatbox Theatre, located within the Steeplegate Mall, will reopen Friday with a three-week run of Copenhagen, originally scheduled for this spring. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.

Phylloxera Productions’ three-person cast and two-person production team mean a perfect fit for the social distancing guidelines.

Michael Fryan’s Copenhagen is a multi-award-winning play that looks at a meeting in September 1941 between Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, former friends who ended up on opposite sides of World War II. The pair were recognized as two great physicists and were the world’s experts on nuclear fission.

At great risk, Heisenberg (played by Wayne Asbury of Peterborough) arranged a clandestine meeting in Copenhagen with Bohr (James Sears of Portsmouth) and Bohr’s wife, Margrethe (Amy Agostino of Londonderry). Since then, all gave different accounts of just what happened on that fateful night.

The play contains significant science, but it can be understood, said Sears, who plays Danish atomic physicist Neils Bohr, a Nobel Prize winner.

“I’m no scientist, believe you me,” Sears said.

He said that Bohr’s thinking ultimately lead to the atomic bomb, which he never thought could happen. So much of the science of physics is because of how Bohr’s mind works, Sears said.

Meanwhile, Werner Heinsburg was a German theoretical physicist and one of the key pioneers of quantum mechanics who worked on the German weapons project during the war.

The show is directed by Gary Locke and designed by Greg Parker.

Copenhagen won a ton of awards,” Locke said. (Drama Desk Award for Best New Play, New York Drama Critics’ Circle Best Play, Tony Award for Best Play and a Prix Molière, just to name a few.)

Shortly after its acclaimed release, Locke said, he began to hear people at auditions using monologues from the show, and he thought they were all so different.

“I put it on my bucket list,” Locke said.

It was supposed to be staged back in April, but stay-at-home orders put an end to that. But the cast continued to run lines remotely, preparing for a day that audiences could finally see it.

“I was determined to do it,” Locke said. “If anyone could do a show during a pandemic, it’s a show with three actors and a total production team of two.”

Locke said once they got the okay, they’d be able to launch pretty quickly.

“I’m really honestly very excited. The cast loves this play. I obviously love this play,” he said. “After working on it for almost a year … I can’t wait for audiences to see it.”

Though the actors have been able to rehearse lines via Zoom, rehearsing movement was more challenging. Locke said during some practices, he’d have the actors verbalize their movements and actions, just to keep them in the back of their minds.

On Monday, the actors gather and had a segment just focusing on the blocking of movement, a few of which needed to be adjusted to keep the cast far enough from the audience.

But by opening night, Sears knows they will be ready and he’s looking forward to having the play out in the open.

People in the audience “feed a particular energy to you,” Sears said. “You feel what’s going on.”

Still he wonders how many people will be in the audience.

“That’s part of the business. You put it all together and hope people come,” Sears said.

That sentiment was echoed by others involved with the show.

Locke said his biggest concern is whether people will feel safe enough to come.

“We are not going to just meet the state guidelines, but exceed them,” he said. “We’re doing to best we can.”

Andrew Pinard, co-founder of Hatbox Theatre, hopes people will feel safe enough to come to see the show. In many ways, the guidelines for theaters are more strict than other industries, he said.

Audience members, staff and the technical crew will all be required to wear masks. People are encouraged to bring their own, but some will be available.

Pinard compared the standards Hatbox is setting to those required of an indoor restaurant. While dining, he explained, once seated patrons do not have to wear masks, just servers, and most people would be speaking (and potentially spreading the virus through aerosols). With the Hatbox’s policy, more than 90% of people would be masked and only three people, the actors, would be speaking.

To aid in maintaining distance, the software used for ticketing has been updated to automatically black out empty seats between parties, who will have assigned seats, a change from Hatbox’s past general admission seating.

The venue will continue to be cleaned before each performance, with special emphasis on areas of common contact (seat arms and backs, door pulls, knobs). Hand sanitizer will be available in several locations in the lobby. Patrons are asked to observe social distancing upon arrival, while in the space, and upon exiting.

Under normal circumstances, Pinard said the Hatbox needs to fill 60 to 70 seats each week to cover expenses. Now, he’s expecting to do a third to a half of that.

While theaters can open up to 50% capacity, that’s unlikely to be reached while maintaining six feet of separation between groups, Pinard said, unless large co-isolating groups come in together. The reality is going to be closer to 20% to 30% capacity, he said.

“If people don’t feel safe coming, they won’t come,” Pinard said. “We want them to trust that we’re taking care of our artists and we’re taking care of the audience.”

Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for members, seniors, and students and $12 for senior members. Tickets may be reserved by calling 715-2315 or purchased online at hatboxnh.com.




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