On July 24, the first act to take the stage at the new Central Square Theater will be a science play.
“QED,” which stands for quantum electrodynamics, is a conversation with the late physicist Richard Feynman, best known for his work explaining the state of things at the super small scale.
Cambridge Science Festival participants were able to catch a sneak peek of the play at the Broad Institute, and judging from the audience’s reaction to the Saturday, May 3, performance, it was well received.
The play is set in Richard Feynman’s office at Caltech in 1986, about a year before he died of cancer. It is an imaginary day, but one that captures Feynman more as a man rather than a scientist. This is not a two-hour lecture on quantum physics. This is a series of anecdotes – about an obsession to see the country of Tuva, the pain of losing a wife, the excitement of building the atomic bomb, and what science does and does not know.
“Everything is interesting if you look deeply enough,” says the character Feynman. Part of what transcends QED from just a “science play” is its writing. The weaving of narratives, both funny and serious, and the conversational dialogue makes you see how human an endeavor like science is. When you leave the theater, you realize what made Feynman such a great scientist was his curiosity and playful personality.
Playing Feynman in the Underground Railway Theater production come July will be Keith Jochim. “This guy’s like channeling him,” said David Kaiser, an Associate Professor in Science, Technology and Society at MIT and author of a book on Feynman after the May 3 performance. A professional theater actor for 35 years, Jochim knows how to demand the audience’s attention and put just the right amount of emotion and dispassion into the performance. Part of his inspiration, he said, was coming from a family of scientists. “I’ve always been around people who have a curiosity of certain things,” said Jochim.
Because the play was focused on the human side of science, information about quantum physics was kept to a minimum. There were metaphors and graphics to help the audience, but to have gone too heavy into Feynman as a scientist wouldn’t have been as interesting. We do get a taste of Professor Feyman, however, in his interactions interacts throughout the play with imaginary student Miriam Field, played by Danielle Kellerman, a graduate of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. While a nice job, Kellerman’s performance was a little too sexy at times, and it seemed like her character was trying to seduce Feynman more than inspire him.
As a celebration of science, “QED,” hits the spot. And it’s great to know a place like the Undground Railway Theater exists in Cambridge, that puts on science plays. On August 11 through 15 they will also show “Looking at The Life of Galileo: A History Play for Our Times,” also at the Central Square Theater. They are the troupe to go for interesting science theater.
See what Nature Network News Editor Corie Lok had to say about “QED” on her blog.