Tough love

The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer

J. Robert Oppenheimer, Kevin Molina, has an intimate moment with his subconscious.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, Kevin Molina, has an intimate moment with his subconscious.

Photo By David Robert

To set the record straight, Reno Little Theater’s forthcoming production of The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer is not a love story in the vein of, say, Romeo and Juliet. On the contrary, this dramatic play wrestles with themes of ethics, science, suicide, Communism, progress, politics, death and destruction—antithetically unromantic.

Directed by Doug Mishler, the convoluted epic is very much a political commentary about the life and times of the American theoretical physicist and Manhattan Project director J. Robert Oppenheimer, commonly known as “the father of the atomic bomb.”

With a cast of four men and three women—the majority of whom portray two to three characters apiece—the play features Kevin Molina in the tormented title role, with Rachel Sliker as Lilith, his lascivious, gyrating, fluctuating conscience.

“S-s-s-security … “ she hisses, admonishing Oppenheimer that “silence has always been about war.”

“Make it stop, make it stop,” he implores, on his knees after uttering a famous quote from the Bhagavad Gita, the ancient Hindu scripture: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Reno Little Theater does justice to playwright Carson Kreitzer’s script, a very creative way to process the horrific conclusions of the atomic bomb’s existence. The greatest challenge for the audience just might be how to best control the collective lump-in-the-throat at the sheer thought that in all the world, in all mankind’s history, the illustrious USA holds the distinctive title of being the only nation to unleash deadly nuclear weapons—not once, but twice—on Japan. Oh, that ended the war, some still say. It commenced, however, a heated, unending debate that leads Lilith to taunt Oppenheimer: “You turned your back on the thing you made happen.”

Flashback, insinuation and effective lighting illuminate a script sure to send shudders through any observer—hard to be casual or callous, though, with such heavy subject matter. Superbly facilitated by Reno Little Theater, the beauty is in these thoroughly fleshed-out performances. Brilliantly played out on the stage, The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer rises, like the insidious mushroom clouds rooted in ignorance and ethnic-cleansing ideology, above pure-entertainment value, prompting a politically charged retrospective and lending definitive credence to the popular phrase, “the theater of war.”

If only the narrow-minded, chillingly cold-hearted, dead-as-doornails American political forces that ordered the dropping of the “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, could witness the infinite suffering and persecution perpetrated by their evil weapons. The show is as much a heartbreaking history lesson as it is an ingenious interpretation of the secrets inside Oppenheimer’s head.

Suggesting that the Jewish physicist did, in fact, experience great personal tumult over his role in the unforgettable nuclear-induced holocaust, assistant director Nancy Podewils queries, “To what extent are we responsible for what we create?”

Reno Little Theater’s production allows the audience to answer that question for themselves.

Its intense rendition of The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer will spark essential discussion of just how persecuted, how manipulated the man at the epicenter of the Trinity test must have been. As Oppenheimer asks his Hitler-hating, hypocritical traitors, “And what of your precious scruples?”

As Oppenheimer, Molina holds nothing back. Neither does the rest of the cast. These are some stunning performances.

And just maybe, somewhere in there, viewers may discover some inherent, bittersweet love song.