It has become a grand tradition with shows that Actors Guild of Lexington artistic director Eric Seale directs: nerd night.
"He really loves science and math, and history itself," says Hayley Williams, who has acted in numerous Seale shows, including last year's production of Sarah Ruhl's Dead Man's Cell Phone. "I can tell when he's going to nerd out. He's really good at research and very thorough, which is really good because he sort of fills in the blanks for you."
If ever there was a show that teed up a nerd-inclined director, it would be Actors Guild's latest production: Carson Kreitzer's play The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer, which explores the science and history of the father of the atomic bomb, using the framework of a literary classic, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
This sent Seale into nerd overdrive.
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"It's fun stuff," Seale says of the show that runs through March 11. "Now, if you come to the show, you're not going to be bombarded with some physics lesson. It's more about the world at that time, which I think is important culturally because we are so bombarded with stuff that happened in World War II. But on the civilian side, I don't think we understand that in civilian life, everyone was involved. This was one of the first times in history that science went to war."
Tom Phillips, who plays Oppenheimer, says he was struck by the conflict that emerged in the man who thought he was developing the weapon that would bring down German dictator Adolf Hitler.
"It's almost like Frankenstein, because he almost has to turn his back on his invention because he detests what it has become," Phillips says of Oppenheimer after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, that ended World War II. "He's a once-in-a-generation mind who was in the right place at the right time, but his real skill is being able to manage people and direct them in such a way that they could complete the project."
Phillips says he doesn't put a lot of stock in exhaustive research.
"It is important for me to know where he came from, about the time, what direction he was taking," Phillips says. "When you're playing someone real, it's important to stay with the script and let that be your guide. But you do want to do the research to round it out and find nuances the audience might not see, but it enriches the performance."
Seale says Oppenheimer has kindled the inner nerd of some people in the show who normally are not so inclined.
"Hayley Williams usually rolls her eyes at me when I start getting nerdy," Seale says. "She gives me that dirty look.
"But even she went off and did a ton of research. So I think people that might normally think I take this too seriously have really embraced this."
Williams, who plays Oppenheimer's wife, says, "It's really cool to be able to look online and find Kitty Oppenheimer's FBI files. It really gives you something to go on emotionally to know they thought she was a communist and she felt like they were pointing the finger at her."
What really fascinates Seale and others involved with the show is that the same kinds of issues are pertinent today: the worries over Iran developing a nuclear weapon, pervasive suspicions of groups of people by race and religion.
"I always joke that I pick these plays thinking they will become relevant," Seale says, noting that he selected the rapture play End Days right before a California preacher started predicting the event would happen last year. "I call it clairvoyant programming."