The Physicists (Agee translation)by Friedrich Durrenmatt Translated from German by Joel Agee
The Physicists is a provocative and darkly comic satire about life in modern times, by one of Europe’s foremost dramatists.
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Dürrenmatt ambitiously considers the topics of science, reason, miracles, power, and sanity in The Physicists, a philosophical treatise in the form of an old-fashioned mystery. At the beginning of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Physicists, Inspector Richard Voss arrives at the Les Cerisiers sanatorium to find the strangled corpse of Irene Straub, the third nurse murdered at the insane asylum in recent months. Voss questions Marta Boll, the head nurse, as well as the asylum’s three patients. The first believes he is Albert Einstein or the physicist Joseph Eisler or perhaps he is Joseph Eisler. The second thinks he is Sir Isaac Newton, though he may be Herbert George Butler or perhaps the physicist Jaspar Kilton. The last of the three title characters is Johann Wilhelm Möbius, to whom King Solomon regularly appears to dictate to him “the Principles of Universal Discovery” which promise unimaginable power to the person who comprehends them.
As the motivation behind the murders becomes clear, the audience finds itself in a dizzying world where the insane may, in fact, be making the most rational choice in response to a world gone mad and the police and nurses may be more insane than the residents of the asylum.
“[Friedrich Dürrenmatt] has the most lively concept of the absurd in his plays, which tend to burst across the stage like firecrackers. . . . [The Physicists is] continually intriguing and entertaining. . . . Not a play you can forget easily.” —Clive Barnes, New York Times
“With The Physicists, Dürrenmatt seems to be entering a new stage in his development as a playwright. His fantastic imagination and his unrivaled powers of invention are still very much present, but they seem to be completely under control for the first time. This play has a concentration which all of his earlier plays except for The Visit have lacked.” —Robert W. Corrigan
“There have been political upheavals as well as scientific breakthroughs since Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Physicists was first produced on Broadway in 1964. However, the Swiss playwright’s cynical view of mankind courting, and surrendering itself to, its own extinction remains no less valid or horrifying.” —Mel Gussow, New York Times
“In a world of monstrous perils and horrifying responsibilities, could the playwright dramatize the pervasive moral question in any other way?” —Howard Taubman, The New York Times