For those who don’t know me, I am somewhat geeky (a few might use an adverb other than “somewhat”). So when I read about this play, about the physicist Leo Szilard, and saw that it was going to be performed by veteran spoken-word artist and storyteller Jem Rolls, I was particularly excited.
What can I say? I was thrilled by this show. It cannot be called a play, but more like the most exciting lecture you’ve ever had. Except that “lecture” does not convey the sense of suspense, drama, fear, and delight that will result from attending.
I have read the biographies of various physicists, including of course Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer, but Leo Szilard barely registered to me. I certainly did not know that he was the first person to envision how a nuclear bomb could work. I had heard of Einstein’s letter to Roosevelt, but I did not know that Szilard drafted it.
Are you worried that the physics discussions will go over your head? No equation enters the play at any point. This play is a model of clear communication for laypeople. Plus, there is a lot more than physics to this work–politics (both international and internecine), personal antipathies, and romance are all part of the story too. Jem Rolls did a huge amount of research (I was jealous when he talked of visiting the Bodleian Library in Oxford) to make this all come together, and it does, magnificently.
This performance is hard to describe without summarizing it, and the best way to find out what it’s about is to see it. Jem Rolls frequently has sell-out performances at the Fringe, so buy your tickets quickly.
Want to learn more about Szilard and his cohort of Hungarians who changed the face of modern science? Wikipedia has a lot, but this book looks really good: The Martians of Science.