The German play about the Cold War will be performed at Hillsdale beginning April 26. Channels | Collegian

Next week students will have the opportunity to witness the fusion between art and science in Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play “The Physicists.” In the Quilhot Black Box Theatre at the Sage Center for Performing Arts, students will retell a tale of drama and suspense set in a Swiss sanitarium. Performances of “The Physicists” begin on April 26, with showtimes at 8:00 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and one performance at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 29.

Professor and director of theatre George Angell said that, like all of Dürrenmatt’s work, the Physicists is a unique play,

“This particular script begins as a murder mystery, then it twists, and twists, and twists again until it is something wildly unexpected,” Angell said.

Angell referred to Dürrenmatt as “the most important German language author of the second half of the 20th century.” “The Physicists” incorporates the history of the Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s into the story. Angell added that this play raises important questions of the morality of science. Regardless of one’s specific interests, there are many aspects of this play that would fascinate many individual members of an audience, Angell said.

An entire 3-credit class in dramaturgy has been solely devoted to the show, and the three student leads have put at least 100 hours apiece of research into the play. Pouring 15 or more hours of rehearsal a week into the production, these students have worked hard to bring this entertainment to life.   

Among these students will be Maddy Johnson, a senior philosophy major who is playing the character of Frau Lina Rose, the wife of one of the physicists.

This is Johnson’s first and only play at Hillsdale, though she participated in drama in high school. Being in a play has added a balance to her schedule, Johnson said, adding that she enjoys entering the imaginary world during the week instead of just reading all the time.

Inspired to act partly by David Tennant’s role as Hamlet in the BBC production and by her participation in Dr. Smith’s Shakespeare class, Johnson said being a part of this production has been a meaningful experience to her.

“It is definitely an exercise in creatively transforming myself,” Johnson said. “I do enjoy playing [Lina]. I enjoy the melodrama, if I am honest with myself.”  

David Whitson, a senior economics and Latin double major, will be playing the character of Johann Willhelm Mobius, one of the physicists in the sanatorium. Whitson is no stranger to Hillsdale’s theater program, but he said that for him, the biggest difference in this show in comparison to others he has done is that his character in this play has many different and deep layers that are not always evident.

“His true underlying motives for everything he does are subtle, yet powerful, and lead him to places and actions that no physicist would ever truly go. Having this many thoughts and passions in one character has certainly been something I have particularly enjoyed,” Whitson said.    

Junior Rebekah Roundey, a double major in physics and music, says that she believes there is an aesthetic side to physics that can combine well with any art.

“Just like in a genre like science fiction, the physics can easily be a setting for the plot, or a starting point for whatever dramatic or moral developments may occur,” Roundey said.  

Angell said that he has been a theater director for 50 years, and that he has been thinking about producing this show for 40 years. The process of producing The Physicists has been one of the smoothest of his entire career.

“The dedication, talent and professionalism of the cast has made the process joyful, and remarkably free of anxiety. I fully expect the performances to be wonderful and exquisitely detailed, marred only by the fact that the Quilhot Theatre seats only 70, so it will only be seen by those pro-active enough to reserve seating early,” Angell said.

To reserve free tickets, email the box office at or call 517-607-2848.  

“It’s really fun. I think it’s a very Hillsdale play in some sense, because it’s clever and funny. There are twists and turns, but it’s also very thought-provoking,” Johnson said.