I don't understand quantum mechanics. I tried after seeing Michael Frayn's Copenhagen, a play about a meeting between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg during World War II, and long before that, when I was seventeen, I read Erwin Schrodinger's What Is Life for a physics class and found myself as charmed by his writing as I remained ignorant of what he was actually saying. I did love the idea of Schrodinger's cat, which was simultaneously alive and dead until you lifted the lid of its box, but more as metaphor than for any insight it conveyed into how observation and measurement influence scientific outcome.
I'm not proud of my ignorance. It feels awful to have your poor mind bumping up blindly against a topic that appears as dazzlingly lucid as this one. So it was in a state of inquisitive befuddlement that I sat down to watch a murder one less, a physics-influenced theater piece by Julie Rada that's part of the Boulder Fringe Festival.
I'll describe the action. A man (Brandon Kruhm) sits on a bench, naked to the waist, contemplating his hands, his body tattooed with words you can't quite make out. An Eleanor Rigby-ish young woman (Rada) — clumpy shoes, hair in bunches at each side of her head, a gray cardigan — enters; two suitcases dangle from a yoke around her neck. The man describes her thoughts and actions; she in turn describes his. Certain images recur. They speak of "a murder of crows," of moths and lions, of postmen and bathrooms. There's a lot of water: It drips from one of her cases and soaks the pages she periodically retrieves from them; both actors' faces are shiny and appear wet. Periodically, the two stand and circle the stage. Sometimes they mirror each other's movements in a dance-like sort of way, sometimes she traps him against the right wall with the fierce beam of a spotlight, and at other times he picks her up and places her in a crate on the left, where she struggles. All of these movements are amplified by shadows and mirrors. We learn that the man's house is sentient and highly intelligent. It likes — here we go — Heidegger and Nietzsche. It amuses itself by creating theories and conducting experiments. When the woman enters, it envelops her, and then, like Schrodinger's poor cat, she's both alive and dead.
All this could be both boring and pretentious, but it isn't. Rada and Kruhm approach their roles with a great deal of focus and concentration, and the result is mesmerizing. I found myself reflecting on the evocative power of objects: an umbrella, the suitcases, a splintered bench. Watching Rada deal with the monstrous house, her expression curious and non-judgmental, I couldn't help thinking of Alice in Wonderland, and the way she became trapped in the White Rabbit's house because she couldn't stop growing. Then later, she was in the realm of the Red Queen, walking through a garden away from another house. But no matter how far she got, the house kept looming up in front of her: "So, resolutely turning her back upon the house, she set out once more down the path, determined to keep straight on till she got to the hill. For a few minutes all went on well, and she was just saying, 'I really shall do it this time' when the path gave a sudden twist and shook itself (as she described it afterwards), and the next moment she found herself actually walking in at the door. 'Oh, it's too bad!' she cried. 'I never saw such a house for getting in the way! Never!'"
I'm sure Schrodinger would have had something to say about that.
The rest of the Boulder Fringe Festival, which runs through August 23, is a riotous and unjuried group of theater pieces that range from the profound to the idiotic. Fortunately, the prices are low, and if you're bored by any one offering, you can always wander off and find another. Just watch out for crows.