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Feynman play 'QED' to be performed starting April 30

Keith Jochim as Richard Feynman in 'QED.'
Keith Jochim as Richard Feynman in 'QED.'
Photo / Sally Cohn

"QED," a play that showcases the warmth and genius of Nobel laureate Richard Feynman SB '39, will be performed from Wednesday, April 30, to Sunday, May 4, as part of the Cambridge Science Festival.

Written by American playwright Peter Parnell, "QED" was inspired by Feynman's own writings, including his popular science book, "QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter." Its title also refers to quantum electrodynamics, the field in which Feynman won the 1965 Nobel Prize, and to "quod erat demonstrandum," the Latin phrase used in mathematics meaning, "That which was to be demonstrated."

The play offers a Saturday with Feynman in 1986. Alone in his office at Caltech, he rehearses for his bongo-playing role in a Caltech student production of "South Pacific;" works on a lecture; debates the final report on the Challenger disaster; guides Russian tourists and weighs what to do with the ominous news that his terminal abdominal cancer has spread.

A poignant scene--Feynman died in 1988--but Parnell keeps the focus on Feynman the fun-ster, Feynman the host, Feynman the generous teller of tales: As he bops his bongos and fields phone calls, Feynman reflects aloud on his Manhattan Project work at Los Alamos, and he recalls his best pranks, including the plate-spinning that inspired his work on how electrons spin, leading to his Nobel prize-winning research.

"QED" premiered in Los Angeles in 2001, with Alan Alda as Feynman. The upcoming performances, produced by Catalyst Collaborative at MIT, a collaboration between MIT and the Underground Railway Theater, will star Keith Jochim as the physics Nobelist.

Danielle Kellermann will play the role of a young woman student who visits Feynman in act two of "QED." Jon Lipsky will direct.

MIT physics and humanities faculty and a professor of playwriting from Boston University will moderate public discussions following each of the "QED" performances.

The "QED" moderators are "Einstein's Dreams" author Alan Lightman, physicist, adjunct professor of humanities (April 30); Robert Jaffe, Jane and Otto Morningstar Professor of Physics (May 1); physicist Jerome Friedman, Institute professor emeritus and Nobel laureate (May 2); David Kaiser, associate professor in the program in Science, Technology and Society and lecturer in physics (May 3) and Kate Snodgrass, professor of playwriting, Boston University, and artistic director, Boston Playwrights' Theatre (May 4, matinee).

The spring preview performances of "QED," which are part of the 2008 Cambridge Science Festival presented by the MIT Museum, will take place in the Broad Institute's Lobby Auditorium. "QED" is scheduled to reopen in summer 2008 as the first production at the new Central Square Theater.

Tickets are $20 general admission or $12 for students/seniors. To purchase tickets, please visit, or call (866) 811-4111.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 30, 2008 (download PDF).

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