Duo Shimmers at Walton
By Lily Olason
Christopher Key, and brainchild Free Key Productions, enlist Bellingham theater-alum Savanna Balfour for QED, a fantastic two-person stroll through the world of Nobel Laureates. Manhattan Project physicist Richard Feynman, of quantum electro dynamics fame, is portrayed with reverence and wit by Christopher Key, pacing in his office on a weekend, working problems, writing lectures he didn’t know he had, and ducking a particularly ambitious (and persistent) Physics 10 student (Balfour).
Key’s work is masterful, emotional and pretty darn technical. Countless lines on the refraction of light particles and the behavior of atoms are doled out, artfully diagrammed via chalkboard. Not only can Key pack an academic punch, but an emotional one, too. The story takes place during Feynman’s diagnosis of recurring cancer, and Key lets it subtly, powerfully transcend the work over and around childhood anecdotes and speaking Russian to visiting envoys.
Key’s style is definitively, and just-so, science professor-y. He’s witty, dry, droll, and funny, funny, funny—if tribal sarong and headdress don’t do it, his wit with Balfour and particular charm on the bongo drums will. Because the first act is almost entirely unbroken monolog for the better part of an hour (minus a few one-sided phone calls and answering machine quips), Key has to, and does, carry the rich (yet lovely) text with swift movement and deft timing. You’re so sucked into threaded stories of domesticity and the Bomb at Los Alamos that the lights are up like that. And that kind of acting ain’t easy.
|Photo Credit: David Cohn|
After starting the second act with a bang (see: “tribal headdress”), Key’s Feynman meets Balfour’s very sunny, very funny, very talented Miriam Field in person (opposed to outside the door, where she was previously relegated while Feynman fights with NASA on the phone and generally muses about life). Balfour brings a thoughtful, radiant energy and gleeful counterpart to Key’s serious-yet-funny pragmatist Feynman. She swoops into his oft-somber physicist universe in her neon-pink jumpsuit (another dose of magic from costumes-maven Kathy Peacock Duncan) and, albeit slightly tipsy from the night’s festivities, gives her professor a look on life that challenges facts and figures and the “order” of nature. A fantastic choice for the role, Balfour is bright and funny and sharp, and her timing and fearless use of space wise beyond her years.
The show is a detour from the expected, because the cast is so small and the historical and emotional backstory is so big. The two make it funny, and sad, and real, and there is absolutely nowhere to hide that emotion. This is really what I appreciate about limited casts—there’s so much you can make out of that “limitation” that it becomes an asset. And Balfour and Key certainly proved that tonight.
Come see QED at the Walton Theater inside the Mount Baker in Bellingham, because it's a great show. Tickets go for $15 for adults, $12 for seniors/students, and $10 for student groups of ten or more. The show runs November 6 through 8. To buy online or for more information, visit the MBT’s website.