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Meet 'The Real Dr. Strangelove'

Article Published: Jan. 13, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Meet 'The Real Dr. Strangelove'

From left, John Getz and John Vickery star as Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller, respectively, in L.A. Theatre Works' 'The Real Dr. Strangelove.'

Photo by Geoffrey Wade

While you may recognize him from films like "The Social Network," "Zodiac," and "The Fly," Jan. 22 thrusts screen vet John Getz into a different kind of spotlight.

He's part of an esteemed cast bringing L.A. Theatre Works' "The Real Dr. Strangelove: Edward Teller and the Battle for the Bomb" to Appalachian State University's Farthing Auditorium for drama, controversy and debate.

You may have seen the movie but, unless you were in the trials, you've never seen it like this.

"It is not a satire, it is not a comment on the period," director Shannon Cochran said. "It is actually a representation of what happened in this period between 1951 and 1954 when these scientists, who really turn out to be grown-up little boys, fought for credit for the bomb and who was going to get the rewards for it and who the government was going to favor ... it was just a little turf war between the scientists."

The scary part? "It had the nation's security at stake," she said.

"It's about the development and setting of nuclear policy," Getz said, an ongoing debate that's just as relevant today.

Think two and a half hours of thought-provoking drama set as a radio play. "We do it with microphones ... and sound effects," he said.

And the message hits home, especially for Getz, who prepared for the role of J. Robert Oppenheimer by reading up on all things atom bomb.

"It's difficult to play Oppenheimer as he really was, because he was full of all sorts of ticks," he said. "He was very quiet ... he's not the main character in this."

The main character, he feels, is Edward Teller, the so called "father of the H-bomb." The play showcases the very real debate between Teller and Oppenheimer ("father of the atom bomb"), director Cochran said.

"Edward Teller believed that we needed to have a bomb ready to go, and everybody needed to know about it, so people would fear the United States," Cochran said. "Oppenheimer and a lot of other people believed that was just going to take us down the road of chicken with other countries."
Sound familiar? It should. It's an ongoing argument 60 years later.

"The question still remains," Cochran said. "Should we say no nuclear weapons should be allowed ... or should we make sure that we are armed with the capabilities to destroy somebody who is bent on destroying our country?"

Looking at discussions surrounding Iran and North Korea, it's easy to see why Cochran and Getz feel it's a play everyone should see.

Getz takes it a step further, comparing "Strangelove" and the movie that put him on this year's radar: "The Social Network."

"In a lot of ways, technology, in terms of making these things (the H-bomb, Facebook), is the least of it," he said. "The historical information and how it's portrayed is always the more interesting comparison to me. There's 'The Social Network,' which takes its own liberties with the story, because, of course, (Mark) Zuckerberg wouldn't be interviewed for it, and the story's based on a lot of things said by people involved in the case against him ... historical perspective comes over time. Even when doing something like this about Teller and Oppenheimer ... you can get into arguments with people about what actually happened, and its effect on society is still being measured."

For Getz, who "backed into" acting while an English major in college and initially set out to be a teacher, the play might be the perfect mesh of his academic and theatrical interests. Like all good teachers, he has discussion questions, perfect to talk about over coffee after the show.

"What effect did what happened then have on the politics of nuclear materials today?" he asked. "What did the idea of the nuclear bomb do to our whole idea of power in the world and what shaped those decisions in the first place? Because I think that is always the question, even in political discussions today. What brings people to push the agenda ... and are those old ideas that shape people, do they really matter in terms of the decisions we're making about tomorrow?"

The 90-minute radio play helps L.A. Theatre Works' (LATW) mission of keeping the radio play alive, something the group has been doing for two decades by bringing recorded dramatic literature to millions through live radio performances on NPR, the BBC, CBC and online at

In 2009, LATW brought "The Great Tennessee Monkey Trials" with Ed Asner to Farthing Auditorium.
Joining Getz onstage in January is John Vickery (Teller) known for his work on "Star Trek" and as the original Scar in "The Lion King" on Broadway.

Film and TV actor Michael Canavan ("Murder By Numbers," "Bones,"), Geoffrey Wade ("Bold and the Beautiful") will also be on stage, as well actors Kyle Colerider-Krugh, Diane Adair and Peter McDonald.

Start your own debate Saturday, Jan. 22, at 8 p.m. at Farthing Auditorium. It's part of ASU's Performing Arts Series. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, ASU faculty and staff, and $10 for ASU students and students under 18, and are available at the Farthing Box Office. For more information, or to purchase tickets, call (800) 841-ARTS or visit

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