Scanning the headlines for updates on potential threats of nuclear war were not on the minds of Afterculture Theatre founders Taylor Schulz and Samuel Lockridge when they got the idea for “Trinity,” an original dance and theater performance about Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist whose work led to the creation of the atomic bomb, and the three women he loved. Trinity also was the code name for the first detonation of a nuclear weapon.
The show, now playing in the Lexington Art League’s home base at the Loudoun House, is Lexington’s first large-scale immersive theater production and centers on Oppenheimer’s life leading up to the creation of the atomic bomb, with an emphasis on the role that the women in his life played on his personal and professional development.
Originally, the pair were looking for a way to adapt the Prometheus story, the deity in Greek mythology who was the creator of mankind, and who stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to mankind. But in researching Prometheus, they discovered the 20th-century version of him in the character of Oppenheimer.
“We were looking for some way to adapt the story of Prometheus, and it ended up being much more than that,” Lockridge says of their creative process. “Researching Prometheus is how we ended up at Oppenheimer. There’s been a lot of biographic and historical comparisons.”
Their research led them to the book “Atomic Love,” by Elizabeth J. Church, one of the key source materials Schulz and Lockridge used as they developed the characters and story loops for Trinity.
“We were in love with the story and especially with how these women sort of guided Oppenheimer through his youth into his adulthood and especially sort of shepherded him through the period of time when the atom bomb was created,” says Schulz, who directs the show.
“We treat the women as like his personal Trinity,” says Lockridge, who plays Oppenheimer, whose journey in the play is one of having, losing and finding his morality again.
“They were sort of signposts in their own unique ways for him to help him regain his moral true north,” Lockridge says of Jean Tatler, Oppenheimer’s first love; Kitty Oppenheimer, his wife; and Ruth Tolman, a family friend who later became more.
The themes of romance, morality and human innovation (or its opposite) are what drew the pair into the story, but current events began to make the piece’s commentary on nuclear war more and more relevant, and they made changes as a result.
“We were really thinking about things like climate change when we started framing the show, but as the nuclear threat has resurfaced more recently, we did end up tweaking a couple of elements, adding a few monologues in the show to show this historical moment which directly preceded the Korean war,” Lockridge says.
“We tried to highlight that aspect of it a little bit more to shed a little perspective on what’s happening now with North Korea just to sort of remind the audience members that whatever the circumstances now are, it can all be traced back to this moment in one man’s life, and that’s helpful to think about as what we’re figuring out what to do now,” he says.
Immersive theater is an active experience. In the case of “Trinity,” the action takes place across every floor of the Loudoun House, and the audience is free to move from room to room and to go through props, read letters the characters have written, and walk or stand near the actors as they perform. The show uses drama and dance to tell multiple stories on a 30-minute loop, so you have three chances to follow the story. Everyone has a different experience.
Immersive theater is an emerging trend, especially in larger cities, where tickets can be pricey. Lockridge and Schulz are determined to bring the experience to Lexington in a way that is accessible to all audiences.
“Because immersive theater is sensory and in 360 degrees around you, you’re experiencing the characters’ world,” Schulz says. “You get sort of shaken out of normal life, and I think that makes you more available to experience things on an emotional level when you are taken out of where you normally are and placed in a new environment.”
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.
If you go
What: Immersive theater production by Afterculture Theatre. The audience will move through the venue during the performance, and there is low lighting and no seating.
When: 8-10 p.m. through Sept. 23
Where: Loudoun House, 209 Castlewood Dr.
Tickets: $10 general admission, $5 students with ID and Lexington Art League members