Spotlight: Sara Rademacher Directs The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer

April 25, 2016

Sara Rademacher’s directing thesis, The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer, opened April 20 and will run through April 23 at the Connelly Theatre in New York.

Carson Krietzer’s play follows Oppenheimer, the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, during its invention and testing of the first atomic bomb; in witnessing his struggles with its development and its subsequent devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the play explores broader issues of faith, conscience, and consequences. “I was searching for a play for my thesis, thinking I needed something that dealt with something big, written really well, and that also allowed me to express my sense of humor,” Rademacher said. “Love Song has all this and more.”

Rademacher grew up in Atascadero, California, a small town in the center of the state. “I'm not sure if it’s true, but rumor has it that Atascadero means ‘mud hole,’ or ‘coral puddle,’” she joked. She wrote and directed her first full-length theatre piece while studying abroad in South Africa, after which she worked as a technician, assistant director and director for hire. Upon returning to Santa Barbara, where she attended college, she started a company with her “theatre wife” Emily Jewell. “She and I ran Elements Theatre Collective for two years; it’s on year five now,” she said. “Then both decided we needed more to push up against. I applied for grad schools, and she decided to move to New York. Luckily, we are both here and working together on this show!”

A board member of the National Theatre Conference was the first person to recommend that Rademacher look up Carson. The play she’d been recommended wasn't available, so she grabbed the Oppenheimer play instead. “I remember when I was reading it, my husband kept asking me if I was okay, because I kept making exclamatory noises,” she said.

She was excited by the way the play explored the troubles of a single man by looking at his role in one of the most significant and tragic events in human history. Through these personal struggles, she said, many deep human faults are revealed. “It's hard to explain,” she said. “I didn't understand everything in the play the first time I read it, but I understood deeply the river flowing just beneath the play’s surface. That is what I hope to let breathe in our production.”

She faced many challenges in putting the play on its feet. “This text has been like a rabbit hole,” she said. “Every time I go down one path, three more options appear and I want to explore them all.” The show required research, and research begot more research, leading to discoveries that she never saw coming “Don't even get me started on how much I realized I must have missed in American history class,” she said.

The play takes place in the middle of the twentieth century, but Rademacher believes that its issues are enormously relevant to contemporary audiences. “Recently, the news has been full of threats from North Korea, and Russian invasions into Crimea, and unannounced bombings and shootings all around the world on innocent populations,” Rademacher said. “But I think the thing that the play is really getting at, and what is far more important, is that underlying question that is not so easy to unearth. Oppenheimer lived in a world where fear is pitted against hope. Today, 71 years after the first atomic bomb detonated, we are the same humans living in the same world, dealing daily with the same kind of fear-mongering and hate that nearly destroyed us then. I think it's pretty important to take stock of every once in awhile.”

Rademacher’s team of actors and production all worked together to dive into the challenging text.  There are extremely fast set-changes and several technically challenging evocations of atomic blasts, and most of the actors perform at least three roles. “This play literally has it all,” Rademacher said. “There is some slapstick comedy, smashed right up against living-room drama, smooshed in between slam poetry and historical quotation. But it works I promise!”

Despite the challenges, Rademacher has found the process incredibly rewarding. “For this production I have chosen to work with many people I have come to know and love and sometimes worship for their talent and work,” she said. “It is rare that you get to choose your own team, but I feel over the last three years I have been able to cultivate a community of artists that I never want to work without. Through working with them, I have seen my own growth as a woman and a director, and I have watched them grow with me. These people love the work as much as I do, and they make me better, because I want to do my very best for them. I could not be more proud of where we all are, and that is because we work hard.”

Tickets for The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer are $15 for general admission, $5  for seniors and free for students; they can be purchased here.