ACT’s 1990 season is sure to close with a theatrical “bang” with the Northwest Premiere of Tom Stoppard’s comic espionage thriller Hapgood, the British playwright’s first new work in over seven years. Stoppard’s verbal gymnastics, dazzling theatrics and razor-sharp wit are all on full display in this gripping tale of spies, motherhood and quantum physics.
Stoppard wastes no time plunging the audience into the world of high-level espionage and political intrigue. Hapgood is head of her own British Secret Service unit, running counterintelligence against the KGB. Crucial to her plans is Kerner, the Russian physicist spy she “turned” into a double agent and is using to leak false information back to Moscow. Trouble strikes when the Russians start getting genuine military secrets; someone is staging an elaborate double-cross, and the “mole” must be rooted out before any more damage is done.
But who is the traitor? Has Kerner become a triple agent, working for the Russians? What about Hapgood herself? Her bagman Ridley, who seems to have an itchy trigger finger? Or even the genial spymaster Blair, Hapgood’s superior? Potential doubles, dualities and duplicities abound.
Hapgood’s own dual nature is suggested by her codename; “Mother.” At once tough and compassionate, efficient and anarchic, paternal and maternal, she is a mother, trying to balance single parenthood with her perilous job. When her son becomes a pawn in this deadly spy game, will Hapgood‘s maternal instincts prevent her from doing her ruthless job?
Quantum theory, and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, explained how light can be both particle and wave — the electrons have no specific identity, they change according to how they are observed. “A spy is like a trick of the light,” notes Kerner. “You get what you interrogate for.” But how can a double agent be in two places at the same time? Quantum mechanics is at the heart of this mystery, with Stoppard brilliantly using the concepts of modern physics as a metaphor for the world of espionage — where nothing is what it seems and no one is as they appear — and to explore the duality of human nature.
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