INDRA’S NET THEATER “QED” by Peter Parnell at Berkeley City Club has reasonably good writing, but it is and Jeff Garrett that makes it fly. The play is an exploration of the extraordinary life of legendary Nobel Prize-winning Physicist Richard Feynman, and was inspired by the writings of Richard Feynman and Ralph Leighton’s “Tuva or Bust!”
"QED" closes on Dec 22, and I recommend it as a break from holiday stress and shopping.
Garrett has an amazing talent for weaving that spell that solo actors have to do to keep you interested through hour-length monologues. He captures the smartest-guy –in-the –room nerdy Jewish kid grown up into a Nobel Laureate thing. It is as if Richard Feynman is in the room.
His expressions and delivery seem purely impromptu including stuttering and absent-mindedness. A dictum most every acting class is to make the lines sound like you have just know thought of it and are saying it for the first time, every time; Garrett’s performance is an object lesson in this technique.
It is difficult to portray real life characters, or at least those for whom we have video, since people can compare the portrayal to the real thing. However, when someone is not so well known, it is a bit easier.
There needs to be enough mimicry derived from the study of the videos that makes those who would compare sit up and take notice. I watched a You Tube of Feynman : Garret has his NYC Queen’s accent and delivery, looks fairly like him, and is another stunning example of this part of the art. The only downside to his performance is drumming: either his changes of rhythm were too complicated for me to discern, or he couldn’t keep the beat; You Tube shows Feynman to be a fine drummer so that wasn’t part of the character.
Feynman was quite a character: he didn’t speak till he was three, but when he was five he devised a burglar alarm system for his home one evening while his parents were out. He is ranked among the 10 top physicists of all time by his peers. His work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as in particle physics (he proposed the parton model). Feynman helped develop the atomic bomb and was on the committee that investigated the Challenger disaster, and these are major topics in the play.
Kendra Oberhauser appears as his student for two scenes. When she first enters, there is electricity in the air about the possibilities of where this encounter may lead. Ms. Oberhauser is a vision as lit by Ted Boyce-Smith. When she later arrives unannounced at his apartment a little tipsy with a broken high-heel after a cast party, we feel the temperature rise then realistically resolve.
The play is overlong by 15 minutes and takes liberties at the end, but the tour de force of Garrett is worth the price of admission.
INDRA’S NET THEATER is a relatively new theater company which produces plays in Berkeley and focuses on plays about science and its philosophical and ethical implications
Jeff Garrett will next be seen doing his one-man Christmas Carol, Scrooge: The Haunting of Ebenezer with Shotgun Players. In January he will appear in Sherlock Holmes: The Broken Mirror, at Berkeley City Club for Theatre@Liberty.
“QED” by Peter Parnell
Directed by Bruce Coughran
Bert van Aalsburg, Stage Manager*
Barbara Bernardo, Choreographer
Lili Smith, Set Designer, Props
Chris Houston, Sound Designer
Andrew Maguire, Drumming Coach
Ted Boyce-Smith, Lighting Designer
Helen Slomowitz, Costume Designer
Through December 22, 2013
Times: Thurs-Sat: 8pm; Sunday Matinee 5:00pm
Venue: Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave., Berkeley