Directed by Karen Kessler
At A Red Orchid Theatre
Complex work about science, human ego and mortality is filled with ambition
Paul Mullin’s Louis Slotin Sonata is an ambitious work filled with lessons in quantum physics, World War II history as well as Jewish traditions and scientific methods. This unique work does try to cover too much and is about 20 minutes too long-yet it quickly engages us with am inside look at one of the genius scientists who, as part of the Manhattan Project, developed the atomic bomb. In Louis Slotin’s story we are able to understand the foibles that can render a genius scientist into a reckless show-off whose cavalier behavior led to his own demise. The play recognizes a human dilemma – will our voracious curiosity together with our cockiness get us to destroy us or will it lead to enlightenment?
At 3:20 PM on Tuesday, May 21, 1946 at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Louis Slotin was doing a most dangerous demonstration using a plutonium bomb core when his hand slipped and large amounts of radiation instantly escaped infecting him fatally. The play vividly depicts Slotin’s last nine days of life as he struggles to understand why this happened and what is legacy will be. Slotin, possessing a brilliant analytical mind, accepts his fate without regret.
Much of this theatrically innovative play depicts Slotin’s morphine-induced nightmares where he ‘become Dr. Josef Mengele’ as well as reenacting D-Day, watching lessons from the Bible.’ Slotin also dreams a vaudeville dance with Nazi’s doing a soft-shoe routine. This work has high drama, rich humor as well as history and religious lessons. And above all, we see the destruction of a 35-year-old genius. Steve Schine played Slotin as an arrogant genius, as a total problem solver and as a vulnerable human acutely aware of the consequences of his folly.
The rest of the cast of seven, led by strong work from Guy Massey, Doug Vickers and William Norris, moved from character to character in a smooth transition.
Louis Slotin Sonata is an think piece with bouts of humor; it contains history lessons as well as a personal portrait of a dying man. It is sad, funny and compelling with enough theatricality to engage us. Some judicious cuts – especially in the hallucination scenes – would serve the play well. For a quite different theatre experience, try A Red Orchid’s worthy Louis Slotin Sonata.
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At A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells, Chicago, IL, 312-943-8722, www.aredorchidtheatre.org, tickets $25 -$30, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.