Theater review: ‘Uranium235’ at The Magnetic Theatre

BOMBS AWAY: In 'Uranium235,' President Harry S. Truman must decide whether to use the atomic bomb to end World War II. Pictured, from left, are Jim Weyhenmeyer, Dan Clancy, Mike Yow and Mary Katherine O'Donnell. Photo courtesy of The Magnetic Theatre

In the powerful premiere of Uranium235, onstage through Saturday, Nov. 18, at The Magnetic Theatre, President Harry S. Truman wrestles with perhaps the most horrific decision of the 20th century — whether or not to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. If the device works, it might bring an immediate end to World War II, saving the lives of ground troops who would otherwise be forced into a bloody land invasion. But the untested bomb would also kill many Japanese civilians and sentence others to radiation poisoning. The bomb might even set the atmosphere ablaze and destroy the world.

Asheville-based playwright David Brendan Hopes, veteran director Andrew Gall and a capable cast handle this intense subject matter with skill, weaving a mix of history, drama, fantasy and even song and dance.

Uranium235 contains certain slang terms for the Japanese and the Germans that are considered offensive today. Those slurs fit the era (1945), but some in the audience may squirm when hearing them. A disclaimer is flashed on screen before the show, but it might have been useful to have this explanation delivered by a speaker before the performance.

Uranium235 mostly takes place in the president’s office. Mike Yow gives a convincing turn as Truman. A compelling Mary Katherine O’Donnell is his mysterious muse Clio, an unconventional character who counsels the president. The play has a surreal feel, largely thanks to O’Donnell’s strong performance. (She also shares her notable singing voice.)

Truman is fresh in office after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He is overwhelmed and angry about only just being informed of the atomic weapon. Adding to his frustration, others have long known of its development.

Jim Weyhenmeyer plays Gen. Groves, who attempts to explain why the new president was not in on the big secret. Dan Clancy delivers as the cocky physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who helped build the bomb, but admits he doesn’t know if it will work.

A smaller story involves Jimmy (Kiran Bursenos), a young American student, who befriends Kiko (Lily Bartleson) a Japanese girl. Kiko dreams of her ancestral homeland, which is soon to be forever changed.

This heavy material is appropriately lightened by an ensemble of singer-dancers (Bartleson, Bursenos, Bia Holmes, Eugene Jones, Samuel Quinn Morris and Hannah Williams-Beaver), showcasing wartime songs. They sometimes enter from the back of the theater or even come offstage and into the audience.

Authentic-looking dress for all the players adds icing to the cake. A cheer is deserved for costume designer Kayren McKnight.

Gall, The Magnetic Theatre’s interim managing artistic director, and Hopes, whose works have been produced in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and London, have delivered another thought-provoking winner.

WHAT: Uranium235
WHERE: The Magnetic Theatre, 375 Depot St.
WHEN: Through Saturday, Nov. 18. Thursdays-Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. $16


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About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

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One thought on “Theater review: ‘Uranium235’ at The Magnetic Theatre

  1. Big Al

    Not so long ago, a Japanese academic visited UNC-A to berate America for dropping the A-Bombs on Nagasaki & Hiroshima. How conveniently forgotten are the Rape of Nanking, the South Korean women forced into sex slavery (both of which influence Pacific Rim politics to this day), Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March, and the obvious fascism of the Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere with which imperial Japan attempted to rationalize its’ invasions. When the sum total of Japan’s atrocities are tallied, they should be thankful that we stopped at two cities.

    Still, the decision to employ weapons of mass destruction was an emotionally, politically and morally complex one, especially when the man making it had been thrust into the role with no preparation. This play did a pretty good job of covering all of the bases when it could have toed the PC line or dived into syrupy patriotism (which I must admit I felt some of the musical numbers actually flirted with). Mike Yow’s performance as Truman was POWERFUL, Mary Katherine O’Donnell’s portrayal of Clio was seamless and graceful, and Dan Clancy’s contributions, while brief, were hard-hitting and straight, like the last nails that finish the construction and make the end product true. Kiran Bursenos showed remarkable flexibility in multiple roles, including a few healthy doses of the compassion necessary to keep a play about war from becoming pandering or propaganda.

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