The brilliant twentieth century American physicist Richard Feynman was a really cool guy who would be really fun to hang out with. You canít, because heís dead. But you can watch Peter Parnellís play QED and hopefully thatís a decent approximation. This is what I took away from watching the theatre4humanity production and itís not a bad thing to take away at all.
Starring the gifted Rob Riley as Feynman, itís not quite a one man show but itís close. It tells the story of one day in Feynmanís office toward the end of his life in the mid-1980s. Courtney OíNeilís terrific scenic design does a great job of conveying the setting, with the walls turned into beautiful if incomprehensible math strewn blackboards. But it is Riley himself who bears the burden of bringing this deeply humanist genius to life, a challenge he rises to.
Feynman is a lover of life. Heís deeply engaged in his work of exploring science and bringing knowledge to the public. But he finds time to play the drums and make cameos in the school musicals. He tells us funny and philosophical stories. He tells us about his greatest claim to fame, helping to create the atom bomb. He recalls the endeavor with the appropriate mixture of pride and regret.
He is ill and facing the likelihood of death, which he does with pragmatism and strength. It sets him off remembering his first wife, who died tragically of leukemia as a young woman. The only other onstage character who appears sporadically is Miriam (Grace Wagner) an undergrad who aspires to be a scientist. She also reminds Feynman of his lost love. Thereís an obvious attraction between them, which is never creepy because lines are never crossed. Thereís a sweet otherworldliness to their scenes together.
QED is a reminder that the most compelling drama is the one that takes place inside an individualís mind.