Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Oppenheimer Journey

J. Robert Oppenheimer is the epitome of confliction.

Back when I was in graduate school, my homie Mark wrestled with the idea of doing a solo piece revolving around the life and times of Mr. Oppenheimer. I have to admit I was only moderately interested primarily because I had very little insight into who he really was. I knew of Oppenheimer and his work on the Manhattan Project, sure. I knew he was the physicist who was credited with the birth of the atomic age, and I knew he received much fanfare from the United States government after his creation decimated the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

But because I hadn't been exposed to his thoughts and views on the world, I figured Mark's project would be more of a "what-if-Hitler-had-a-heart" type of affair. I never imagined the man who built the bomb could have had any semblance of empathy or compassion. I mean, the guy BUILT THE BOMB.

Fast forward to March 2011.

I'm working with a company here in Philadelphia called No Face Performance Group on a new piece their developing called Dime. The project involves the musings and explorations of a little girl named Dime and her interactions with the complexities of science and technology as it's influenced our sense of the world. Many of the moments in the play examine the thoughts, frustrations, beliefs, and conflictions of one Mr. J Robert Oppenheimer.

As I've begun looking into this cat and his work, I'm finally beginning to understand Mark's appeal. Oppenheimer is probably one of the most brilliant, tormented, and misunderstood individuals of the 20th century. The paradox created by his sensitivity to humanity contrasted with his devotion to scientific advancement seems to have burdened him to no end. As gifted as he was, I'm left to wonder how such a learned and worldly individual allowed his ambition to blind him from foreseeing the consequences of his research. Did he believe we'd be better off? Did he doubt the United States' desire to use this weapon? Could he fully comprehend the magnitude of his discovery?

As I explore Mr. Oppenheimer more, I hope to work out some of my questions here. Thanks for humoring me.


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