The Physicists

Herbert George Beutler believes he is Newton, Ernst Ernesti thinks he is Einstein. Johann Wilhelm Mobius who has visions in which King Solomon appears to him. In charge is the aristocratic, hunchbacked woman-psychiatrist, Fraulein Dr. Mathilde zon Zahnd.

Play title: The Physicists

Author (s): Friedrich Dürrenmatt (translated from the German by James Kirkup)

Publisher:  Grove Press Inc. (also Samuel French Inc.)

Publication Date: German in 1962, English in 1964

Genre: Comedy (Satire)

Primary Discipline:  Physics

Secondary Discipline:  Psychology

Scientist (s):  Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein

Source Texts: Brighter Than a Thousand Suns:  A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists (1958) by Robert Jungk

Character Breakdown: 16 men, 4 women

Herbert George Beutler, Ernst Ernesti, Johann Wilhelm Mobius, Fraulein Dr. Mathilde zon Zahnd, Marta Boll, Monika Stettler, Uwe Sievers, McArthur, Murillo, Oskar Rose, Frau Lina Rose, Adolf-Frieedrich, Wilfried-Kaspar, Jörg-Lukas, Richard Voss, Police Doctors, Guhl, Blocher.

Setting: A madhouse

Time Period:  Present day (1060s)

Synopsis of Play: Herbert George Beutler believes he is Newton, Ernst Ernesti thinks he is Einstein. Both are fairly recent arrivals at the asylum. Johann Wilhelm Mobius who has visions in which King Solomon appears to him, has been there for fifteen years. In charge is the efficient, aristocratic, hunchbacked woman-psychiatrist, Fraulein Dr. Mathilde zon Zahnd. To this, add the Aristotelian unities to place, time and action, and one has the basic ingredients of Swiss dramatist Friedrich Durrenmatt’s latest – and perhaps most ambitious – play. With these ingredients, Durrenmatt has fashioned a work that probes beneath the surface of seeming comedy to ask a number of pertinent questions about today’s world. For it soon becomes evident that the harmless, lovable lunatics are not as simple as they seem. Are they, in fact really mad? Or are they playing some murderous game, with the world as the stake? Once again, as with his previous plays, Durrenmatt here shows himself to be a master dramatist, capable of electrifying the theater. (Play text cover blurb, Grove Press)

First Performance Date: 1962

First Producer:  Produced in Zürich, Switzerland

Performance History:  In 1962, the world premiere of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play Die Physiker, The Physicists, was shown in Zürich, Switzerland. Since then it has been performed all over the world and been translated into many different languages. Including James Kirkup’s English edition, referenced in this post.

Links:

http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2004/11/19/brilliance-of-physics-excites-director-mike/

http://www.oobr.com/top/volSeven/twentynine/Physicists.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/oxford/stage/2004/01/physicists_review.shtml

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-physicists-at-fifty

Audio Recording of the play can be found at LA Theater Works Relativity Series: https://store.latw.org/plays/the-physicists/

Entered by Denise Gillman/Brooke Sanders

Production Photos:

Donmar Warehouse Theatre, London July 2012.
Donmar Warehouse Theatre, London July 2012.
Photo Source: http://www.thecrimson.com Photographer: Philip A. Ernst

Donmar Warehouse Theatre, London July 2012.

Donmar Warehouse Theatre, London July 2012.

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