At 3:20 PM on Tuesday, May 21, 1946 Louis Slotin's hand slipped-- a small, practically insignificant blunder, except that Slotin was the chief bomb-builder at Los Alamos, and at that fateful moment he held in his hands a plutonium bomb core named "Rufus". The slip caused a chain reaction that in turn released a deadly "prompt burst" of radiation. Slotin and others saw a blue glow and felt a momentary flux of heat on their faces. Slotin flung the shell to the floor but it was too late. The damage was done. In the milliseconds it took for the plutonium to spit its deadly neutrons, Louis Slotin became a walking dead man.

With a structure inspired by classical music's sonata allegro form, Louis Slotin Sonata by Paul Mullin traces a brilliant scientist's last nine days, as his body and mind gradually succumb to the chaos wrecked by radiation. Reliving the moment of his accident again and again, Slotin slowly makes his own unique way to redemption.

Louis Slotin Sonata premiered in Los Angeles in 1999 produced by Circle X Theatre (William Salyers played Slotin and Connor Trinneer, who now plays Trip on the television show Enterprise, played Philip Morrison.) This production went on to win the Los Angles Critics' Circle Ted Schmitt Award for Outstanding World Premiere of a New Play as well as the LA Weekly Award for best New Play. Subsequently, the play was produced off-Broadway as Ensemble Studio Theatre's featured mainstage production in the 2001 FirstLight Festival of Plays, underwritten by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. During the rehearsal process the entire cast, director and playwright were invited to Los Alamos to give a reading before members of that prestigious scientific community. Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb served as moderator during the rather heated post-play discussion. The play has also been read by special invitation at the Santa Barbara Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Festival.

Critical response was nearly unanimously favorable for the Los Angeles production. The Los Angeles Times called it "...a rare bird-- a new play that wraps intellectual complexity, emotional depth and theatrical derring-do in one tight and memorable package.... It's bleak, it's cheeky-- it's dazzling.' The LA Weekly enthused that, "... drama and symbol couldn't be more delicately interwoven.' However, the reception to the play's New York production was decidedly chillier. Above the fold on the front page of The New York Times arts section, reviewer Bruce Weber called it: "...a crafty narrative... irresistibly gripping.... as a historical episode suitable for dramatizing, you can't do much better." But a reader continuing deeper to page three witnessed the other shoe drop: "Unfortunately Mr. Mullin has grander ambitions for his play than the mere telling of an important story. Early on he introduces the 'big' philosophical issues that generally accompany the literature of quantum physics and nuclear holocaust. But as with the title, there's something show-offy and distracting about it.". Not uncustomarily, the rest of the NY papers followed in a similar vein. Once a play gets tarred with the Times' dual brushes of faint praise and condescension, its potential future life on the regional theatre circuit is doomed. One has to wonder if this wasn't yet another example of New York critics kneejerkedly loathing anything that L. A. loved, but in the end, it hardly matters. Like so many promising plays, Louis Slotin Sonata made its blip on the national arts radar screen and then faded back into the background. C'est la vie.

There are some factual incongruencies extant within the play that are worth pointing out if for only for the sake of picayune amusement:

The playwright has Slotin reading accounts of Josef Mengele using a makeshift reading machine built for him by Los Alamos engineers. Amazingly enough, the reading machine was built, though Philip Morrison could not confirm in an interview with Mullin whether it was ever actually used by Slotin. Mengele, however, was not widely known in 1946. The stories of his particular atrocities at Auschwitz only came out later in the 1950's.

At one point, Slotin repeats a quote from George Orwell: "At fifty, every man has the face he deserves.", though I'm pretty sure that Orwell wrote this after 1946. I have not been able to pin this down, though.

As I remember others, I'll add them here.


Act I, Section 1
Act I, Section 2
Act I, Section 3
Act I, Section 4
Act I, Section 5
Act I, Section 6
Act I, Section 7
Act I, Section 8
Act I, Section 9
Act I, Section 10

Act II, Section 1
Act II, Section 2
Act II, Section 3
Act II, Section 4
Act II, Section 5
Act II, Section 6
Act II, Section 7

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