Sex and science don't mix. At least, that's what young Richard Feynman's dad keeps telling him. But this is just one of the many theories that the Nobel Prize-winning physicist--who once kept a topless bar from being closed down by claiming that he scribbled equations at one of the back tables--ends up disproving...and just one of the many topics of debate at "Feynman University," centered around the Rockland County dinner table where the family discusses (with equal zeal) anti-Semitism and two-piece bathing suits, puberty, and the morality of the Manhattan Project.
Moving Bodies, a new play by Arthur Giron, dramatizes the biography of Richard Feynman, considered one of the greatest scientific minds (second to Einstein) of the twentieth century. The play is the centerpiece of Ensemble Studio Theatre's second annual First Light Festival, which presents new works related to scientific and technological issues and characters, and is generously funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (to the tune of half a million dollars over three years).
One of the first commissions through the Sloan grant, Moving Bodies fulfills the aims of the Festival: Feynman is plenty scientific, and certainly a character. In telling his story, Giron (a founding member of E.S.T.) touches on some of the major scientific moments of the last sixty years, including the building of the atomic bomb and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Giron also initiates, though he does not explore at length, some interesting discussion regarding the mind/body, male/female split which characterized the scientific world of that time.
The play opens with the Feynman family's trip to the 1933 Chicago Worlds Fair, where Richard and his younger sister, Joan, see a rocket in the Hall of Science and decide that they will go up in it someday. A year later, Feynman is off to M.I.T. Despite his father's hand-me-down suits and his floozy waitress girlfriend, he manages to attract the attention of Robert Oppenheimer, who earmarks him for graduate study at Princeton (where both Oppenheimer and Einstein are teaching).
While at Princeton, Feynman receives from his sister a photo of her piano teacher, Arline Greenbaum, in a two-piece bathing suit--and he's soon in love. Despite the fact that Arline knows she is dying (from lymphatic tuberculosis) and has been warned by her doctors against having sexual relations--and against the strong objections of Feynman's parents and the explicit terms of his Princeton scholarship--Feynman marries Arline. They move to New Mexico, where he works at Los Alamos on the creation of the atomic bomb and she spends the rest of her short life at a sanatorium in the desert.
Boom! The bomb has been invented and dropped, and Feynman's wife and father have both passed away. After a rather strange, surrealistic scene including Oppenheimer's appearance as the devil in a gas mask, Feynman finds himself with nothing to do. So he goes to teach at Cornell.