Act II, Section 1 of Louis Slotin Sonata:

Side note: While I’m leery of over-explicating my plays as I post them here, I’m also aware that few people are going to read them all the way through so as to catch whatever continuing nuances I may or may not have been succesful in drawing. And also, I had to ask myself, "If not here for a little behind-the-scenes info, then where?" So I just want to point out that this scene is obviously meant as a spoof reiteration of the accident that takes place at the beginning of the play. While rehearsing for the world premiere of the play in Los Angeles, we used to call it the Hollywood sequence, and staged it as if it were a cross between a 1950's Sci-Fi camp thriller and a Star Trek episode, though I suppose such a juxtaposition is ultimately redundant. (Speaking of Star Trek, Connor Trinneer who now plays Trip Tucker on Enterprise, originated the role of Philip Morrison in L.A.)

The original inspiration for the following spoof take on the accident was an illustration I found on the web during my research {} which, if you know anything about what actually happened, seems like of those "how-many-things-are-wrong-with-this-picture" puzzles you see in Highlights magazine. Just a few for instances: no one wore lab coats at the Parajito lab; Slotin was in chinos and a polo shirt when the accident happened. No one wore goggles during the crit test. What the hell are goggles gonna do against neutron radiation anyway? I'll leave it to the geekier among you to find the other historical errors and ommissions. For some really cool--albeit occasionally disturbing--actual images of the crit lab, plutonium core, critical assembly, and Louis Slotin himself, you need to refer to the excellent book of photographs Picturing the Bomb, by Rachel Fermi (Enrico's granddaughter).


(Lights up on the Crit Lab. Cieslicki and Young both attend to their duties quite like they did at the beginning of Act I. Slotin and Graves move toward the critical assembly downstage center.)

GRAVES: So this must be where you tickle the dragon's tail.

SLOTIN: That's the assembly for testing plutonium core criticality if that's what you mean.

Oh, sure, I enjoy Dick Feynman's ribbing as much as the next fellow, but around here we take this experiment plenty serious.

GRAVES: Right. Sorry.

SLOTIN: As a matter of fact, after I'm through giving you the laboratory tour, I need to run the critical assembly test on this Pu core we're sending out to Bikini for the test shot.

CIESLICKI: But Dr. Slotin, we've already tested it.

SLOTIN: Sure, we've tested it, Cieslicki. But have we tested it enough? Do we really want to run the risk of a mishap? I think our men in uniform, not to mention the American citizens, deserve better than that. Don't you?

CIESLICKI: Yes, sir.

GRAVES: I'd like to see the test if I may. I should learn this procedure if I'm going to be taking over.

SLOTIN: It's dangerous, Alvin. I've run this crit test over forty times and I still don't take it for granted. Perhaps one day soon there'll be fail-safes-- servomechanisms perhaps-- that will make such hands-on techniques obsolete, but until that time... we'll simply have to do our duty as we see it.

GRAVES: I understand the risks, Louis. I'd like to learn.

SLOTIN: Fair enough.


CIESLICKI: Yes, sir.

SLOTIN: Ask Mr. Kline if he'd like to join us.

(Cieslicki exits upstage and reappears a moment later, followed by Kline.)

SLOTIN: Mr. Kline --Dr. Graves.

KLINE (extending his hand): Dr. Graves.

GRAVES: Mr. Kline.

(Slotin opens a case and removes two halves of a shiny metal sphere. He holds them up in either hand.)

SLOTIN: This is the plutonium core. You'll hear some of the fellows around the lab refer to the cores by nicknames.

Cieslicki, what do you call this one?

CIESLICKI: Uh... Rufus.

SLOTIN: "Rufus". This particular core killed my best friend. Frankly, I don't see the humor. Here.

(He hands one of the hemispheres to Graves. Then turns to offer Kline the other.)

Take it, Kline. We should all know what it is to hold death in our hands.

(Kline tentatively takes the other hemisphere.)

KLINE: It's warm. Like uh... like a live rabbit or something.

(Slotin assembles the experiment much as he did in the first scene. The indicators begin to click and flash relatively slowly and steadily. Slotin moves the top shell back and forth a few inches above the core.)

SLOTIN: Something's not right. I'm not getting the proper neutron yield.

(Slotin grabs a screwdriver, and puts one edge of the top shell directly on the lip of the bottom shell.)

GRAVES: Careful, Louis.

(Slotin rests the screwdriver on the assembly and then slowly lowers the top-shell to the upturned blade. He looks over at one of the radiation indicators.)

SLOTIN: Dammit. Something's still not right.


SLOTIN: Quiet please! This is crucial.

(Slotin twists the screwdriver. The indicators go wild. He continues twisting until there comes a CLICK.)

GRAVES: My god!

CIESLICKI: It slipped.

(The apparatus begins to hum and glow blue.)

KLINE: God help us. The whole thing could explode!

(Slotin quickly yanks the top shell off the core and throws it to the floor. He turns to look at the men behind him.)

KLINE: You saved our lives.

GRAVES: But at what cost to your own?

(Special on Louis.)

SLOTIN: My name was Louis Slotin and I am becoming a hero.

(Lights shift to Major Coakley. . . .)