The abstracted historical snapshot Trinity 5:29 takes a few steps toward understanding the individuals behind America’s passage from a nation of benevolent adolescents to a lethal world leader. During the days preceding the July 16, 1945 detonation of the first atomic bomb — dubbed TRINITY — Robert Oppenheimer (Edgar Oliver), his dead mistress Jean Tatlock (Britt Genelin), President Harry Truman (Marc Palmieri) and Manhattan Project supervisor General Goves (Brian Barnhart) argue about the intersections of science, nationalism, political ideology and patriotism — subjects that could be made so pertinent to present political impasses. Despite inspired sound (Steve Fontain), set (Kyle Chepulis) and costume design (Elisa Santiago), their discussions are neither illuminating nor engaging.
This disappointing result likely stems from narrative uncertainties. If the goal behind the Axis Company’s latest work is historical exposition and analysis, the performances are too rooted in impressionistic caricature and quirk to offer a greater understanding of these figures’ personal biases. From Truman’s perpetual speech-making and Groves’ constant need for presidential re-affirmation to Oppenheimer’s floating soliloquies, the acting is all form and little to no content. Save Oliver, these are essentially stock characters — the politicking statesman, the power-mad general, the hapless dame — and even Oppenheimer seems more a confused spectator to his own biography than a fully realized individual.
On the other hand, if Trinity 5:29 offers its historical moment as an illuminating lesson for our present situation, the connection remains under-developed. Like Don Delillo’s Underworld, Axis’ production offers a bomb blast as the birth cry of the American empire. Unlike that epic novel, though, Trinity 5:29 never communicates (in its 45 minutes) what lessons we might find in this introductory episode to Cold War geopolitics — something about patriotism, surely; the dangers of funneling science and technology funding through military channels; sacrificing lives in the name of socio-historical posturing.
All this and more is tragically missing from a production that, in the end, is simply too short to justify its existence. Just as we adjust to the bizarrely stylized acting, the inventive stage and its dynamics, and begin to perceive the people behind the idiosyncrasies, the bomb’s bright light brings everything to a close. Sound and lighting design that evokes a David Lynch film, a stylish minimalist industrial set and latent Beckettian humor are unfortunately squandered on a play that seems like a work in progress.