Richard Feynman was a physicist who won a Nobel Prize in 1965, helped develop the atomic bomb, and was a key member of a panel that investigated the Challenger explosion in 1986. He was also a loon. Oozing eccentricity as often as possible, Feynman -- aside from being considered the greatest mind since Einstein -- was also an avid bongo player, an artist (with a fetish for nude models), and an actor in local theater.
As brilliantly portrayed by Carbonell Award-winning David Kwiat in QED, Feynman's life and work is given a renaissance performance that would surely have made him proud (he died in 1988). In what is essentially a one-man play, Kwiat exudes a spirit and poignancy that demonstrates complete control of the ever-shifting dialogue and mood, captivating us to the point where he can make us laugh or mourn seemingly at will.
Although Autumn Horne makes a brief appearance as his student, most of the time Kwiat is alone on the intimate set at the GableStage. The events of the play, which take place at Feynman's office at Cal Tech on a Saturday afternoon in June 1986, include a number of phone calls from doctors (he has cancer), his wife, the Challenger committee, and visiting Russian friends. Kwiat also speaks directly to the audience on a number of occasions, recounting Feynman's rich and storied life of accolades, questions, and loss.
There are few scholarly topics that elicit more blank stares than physics, let alone quantum electrodynamics, a field-within-a-field that describes how atoms produce radiation and that gives the play its name. But with Kwiat embodying Feynman's zest for life, it's not hard to stare in amusement and appreciation.
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