Originally scripted by Parnell at
The Feynman we meet in Parnell's play would certainly approve of the theatrical link. In addition to plotting a trip to Tuva, complaining about the Rogers Commission report on the Challenger disaster (Feynman helped demonstrate the failure of the O-rings) and dealing with the grim news that his abdominal
Oh, and he also has a lot to tell us about working on the
He's also working on a lecture titled "What We Know," and since it's safe to say that Feynman knew a lot more than many of us, his verbosity is understandable. It also accommodates the semi-conceit that we are the imaginary audience for this lecture-in-progress as Feynman works it out in his office — chalkboard and all. (Courtney O'Neill's set design surrounds us with equations, diagrams and epigrams, such as Feynman's "What I cannot create, I do not understand.")
But Riley's energetic performance can't overcome the sense that we are passengers on a quick-and-dirty sightseeing trip through Feynman Land, barely registering the highlights as we chug along — the prizes, the pangs of conscience about unleashing nuclear weapons, the disdain for "the official way of doing anything" — but missing the opportunities to contemplate the deeper meaning of what we're being shown.
Riley finds his most endearing moments in throwaway gestures and asides, as when he does a ridiculous little hip-swaying dance to a recording of Tuva throat-singing.
The real anguish underlying Feynman's immediate circumstances — whether he should have surgery for his deadly sarcoma — feels oddly muted here, though there is a late-breaking appearance from a plucky and comely female student, Miriam Field (Grace Wagner), who, in a sort of anti-"Oleanna" twist, flirts and dances with her professor and helps him see the value in taking one last stand against mortality. It's a sweet but insubstantial conclusion to a show that, while clearly in love with its subject, fails to fully flesh him out.
When: Through Dec. 9
Where: Collaboraction Theatre, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes