Four Centuries of Science Plays

Science Plays 23BCE – 2005 CE

Compiled by Marvin Carlson, Distinguished Professor, Department of Theatre and Brian Schwartz, Department of Physics and VP for Research, The Graduate Center of CUNY for their course “Staging Science.”

This list is inclusive in two ways. Plays about medicine and technology have been incorporated along with those about basic science, and we have been expansive about what in the content or treatment qualifies a work as a science play. There is no agreement about definition. Some would restrict the designation to plays in which there is a presentation of scientific ideas, or where at least the fact that a protagonist is a scientist (rather than, say, any dysfunctional individual) is important. Others would admit any work that deals with the consequences of scientific research or invention, or which includes a scientist among the cast of characters. We have tended to adopt the latter view. We make no claim that the list is complete; in fact it almost certainly isn’t. Readers who know of plays that are not on the list are invited to communicate with one of the compilers, whose e-mail addresses are given at the end.

Pre-Nineteenth Century Plays

Aristophanes. Clouds. 423 BCE. Aristophanes ridicules the work of the “rank pedants, those palefaced, barefoot vagabonds in the academy,” occupied with research in a variety of subjects, science among them.
Aristophanes. Clouds. Trans. Jeffrey Henderson. Newburyport, MA: Focus Information Group, Inc., 1992.

Jonson, Ben. The Alchemist. (1610). Lampoons the practitioners of science and pseudo-science as jargon-babbling rogues, and their willing dupes.
Jonson, Ben. The Alchemist. Ed. Elizabeth Cook. New York: Norton, 1997.

Marlowe, Christopher. Dr. Faustus. (1604). This play features a scientist who strikes a bargain with the devil and meets a horrible demise as a result of his lust for knowledge.
Marlowe, Christopher. Dr. Faustus. London: Back in Print, 2002.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Faust. (1808 [part 1], 1831 [part 2]). A scientist and scholar has grown weary of his learning and, aided by a powerful accomplice, regains his youth and pursues pleasure, with mixed consequences.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Faust: A Tragedy: Parts One and Two. Trans. Robert David MacDonald. London: Oberon, 2002.

Shadwell, Thomas. The Virtuoso. (1676). This is the first drama in which a major character is clearly recognizable as a scientist. It is a devastating portrait; the demonstrations and explanations of the practice of science are caricatures.
Shadwell, Thomas. The Virtuoso. Ed. Marjorie Hope Nicolson and David Stuart Rodes. Lincoln, U of Nebraska P, 1966.

Late-Nineteenth to Mid-Twentieth Century Plays

Andreyev, Leonid. To the Stars. (1907). An astronomer, who lives apart from society, is blind to the changing world around him, even as family members try to make him aware of what is happening.
Andreyev, Leonid. To the Stars: A Drama in Four Acts. Trans. A. Goudiss. Boston: Poet Lore, 1907.

Brieux, Eugene. Les Avaris. (1909) Controversial play dealing with syphilis and its
personal and public consequences.

Brecht, Bertolt. Galileo. (1939-1947). The first play to portray an actual scientist in a historical situation, Galileo is a hero in the first version, but after Hiroshima, becomes retroactively an anti-hero in the second.
Brecht, Bertolt. Galileo. Trans. Charles Laughton. Ed. Eric Bentley. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991.

Capek, Karel. R. U. R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). (1921). The devastating effect of robots on society.
Capek, Karel. R. U. R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots): A Fantastic Melodrama in Three Acts and an Epilogue. Trans. Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair. New York: Samuel French, c 1923.

Durrenmatt, Friedrich. The Physicists. (1962). Warns of the apocalyptic results of modern physics put into the wrong hands, using the Möbius strip as a central image.
Durrenmatt, Friedrich. The Physicists. Trans. James Kirkup. New York: Grove Press, 1964.

Flanagan, Hallie. [a.k.a. Hallie Ferguson Flanagan Davis]. E=mc2 . (1948). Part allegory and part documentary, the play features a character called Atom and a Professor who explains the physics the playwright thinks that the audience needs to know.

Flanagan, Hallie. E=mc2: A Living Newspaper About the Atomic Age . New York: Samuel French, 1948.

Flanagan, Hallie. Spirochete. (1938) The epic history of syphilis from its origins to
the present day, told as a Living Newspaper and performed by the Federal Theatre

Glaspell, Susan. The Verge. (1921) A female botanist creates new plants in all-consuming experiments that bring her into conflict with her family.

Golding, William. The Brass Butterfly. (1958). Set in third century Rome. A scientist invents an explosive missile, a steamship, the pressure cooker and other dangerous technology far ahead of his time, but the wise emperor rejects these innovations and suggests that the scientist devote himself to gardening.
Golding, William. The Brass Butterfly: A Play in Three Acts. London: Faber and Faber, 1958.

Gorky, Maksim [a.k.a. Maxim Gorki]. The Children of the Sun. (1905; translation by Stephen Mulrine, 1999). About a chemist who is an idealist wanting to be left alone, is uninterested in the realities around him and unsympathetic to the claim that he should serve society.
Gorky, Maksim. The Children of the Sun. Trans. A. J. Wolfe. Boston: Poet Lore Co., 1906.

Ibsen, Henrik. An Enemy of the People. (1882). A doctor discovers dangerous bacteria in his town’s spa waters, but instead of appreciation he meets the townspeople’s wrath as politics trumps science.
Ibsen, Henrik. An Enemy of the People. Ed. William-Alan Landes. Studio City, CA: Players Press, 2002.

Jahnn, Hans Henny. Triimmer des Gewissens (Der staubige Regenbogen)/The Ruins of
Conscience: The Dusty Rainbow. (1959) A physicist sees too late that his research may
have terrible consequences, and commits suicide as he is unable to avert the threat of mass destruction.

Kipphardt, Heinar. In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer. (1964; trans. Ruth Speirs and
performed at Mark Taper Forum 1967-8) Documentary theatre based on the 1954 security clearance hearings by the Atomic Energy Commission.

Kingsley, Sidney. Men in White: A Play in Three Acts. (1933). Prototypical emergency room drama that depicts a hospital and doctors treating patients.
Kingsley, Sidney. Men in White: A Play in Three Acts. New York: Covici, Friede, 1933.

Lawrence, Jerome and Robert E. Lee. Inherit the Wind. (1955). About the Scopes trial pitting Darwin’s theory of evolution against the Bible.
Lawrence, Jerome and Robert E. Lee. Inherit the Wind. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.

Mabon Mines. Dead End Kids. (1980) According to Natalie Crohn Schmitt, the production is about the discovery and uses of radiation… [andi examined our fascination with transformation, beginning with our effort to turn base metal into gold and ending with our success in turning atoms into bombs. (Natalie C. Schmitt, Actors and Onlookers, 122-3)

MacColl, Ewan. Uranium 235. (1952). A dynamic atomic-energy play. Although this was most likely one of MacColl’s agit-prop play scripts, it is not included in the collection that he helped edit, Agit-prop to Theatre Workshop: Political Plays, 1930-1950. Ed. Howard Goorney and Ewan MacColl. Dover, NH: Manchester UP, 1986.

MacLeish, Archibald. Heracles. (a.k.a. Herakles). (1965). The protagonist, a scientist at the zenith of his career, has just been awarded a Nobel Prize. The adulation pleases him, but he is also aware of the futility and costs of contemporary scientific discovery.
MacLeish, Archibald. Herakles: A Play in Verse. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967.

Morgan, Charles. The Burning Glass. (1953). One of many post-atomic plays in which the scientist is an individual who poses a grave threat to humanity. Here, a weather control machine would allow the sun’s radiation to be fatally concentrated on any specific spot on earth.
Morgan, Charles. The Burning Glass: A Play. New York: St. Martin’s P, 1953.

Saul, Oscar and H.R. Hays. Medicine Show. (1940) A Living Newspaper revealing the
inner workings of hospitals to Mr. Average Citizen. Performed on Broadway. Unpublished, in the archives of the Federal Theatre Project.

Shaw, George Bernard. The Doctor’s Dilemma. (1906). Makes fun of a passel of medical charlatans, but also introduces concepts of biochemistry.
Shaw, [George] Bernard. The Doctor’s Dilemma: A Tragedy. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1965.

Sinclair, Upton. A Giant’s Strength. (1948) A play about atomic physicist Barry Harding.

Zuckmayer, Carl. Das kalte Licht. (1955). Loosely based on the story of the physicist Klaus Fuchs. The play does describe the development of the atomic bomb, but the author is more concerned with the political and nationalist pressure on the characters than with the science.
Zuckmayer, Carl. Das kalte Licht Ed. Frank G. Ryder. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1958.

Contemporary Plays (1982-2005)

Dramas and Comedies

Auburn, David. Proof. (2000). A young, insecure, and somewhat enigmatic female mathematics student, and not her demented mathematical genius of a father, turns out to have solved a fiendishly difficult theorem.
Auburn, David. Proof: A Play. New York: Faber and Faber, 2001.

Barrow, John. Infinities. (2002). Five dramatic scenes about the concept of infinity, including the dispute between Cantor and Kronecker about its nature, a famous problem of Hilbert, and the vicissitudes of living forever.

Berger, Glen. Great Men of Science, Nos. 21 and 22. (1998). Set in Paris in 1793-1794 during the Reign of Terror, it examines the ideals of the Enlightenment scientist when faced with political and social upheaval.

Bernstein, Elsa. Ddmmerung: Schauspiel infUnfAkten (Twilight: A Drama in Five Acts)
(date?) In this naturalist play, a female eye surgeon successfully treats the daughter of a man who is against educated women and wins his love. Poised to sacrifice medicine for marriage, she finds misery instead. (from the MLA Newsletter, Winter 2003).

Brenton, Howard. The Genius. (1982). A 1980 American Renaissance man, bright and brash, like Brecht’s Galileo, cannot deal with the moral dilemmas his work force him to confront.
Brenton, Howard. “The Genius.” Plays: Two. London: Methuen Drama, 1989.

Brook, Peter and Marie-Hélène Estienne. The Man Who/L’Homme Qui. (2002). A “theatrical research play” based on the Oliver Sacks story The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. First produced in 1994 at the Cottesloe Theatre, National Theatre, London.

Buchner, George

Burns, Elizabeth. Autodestruct: The Ultimate Cure for Cancer. (2001). A scientist clones his way to immortality, but at what price?

Cheng, Kipp Erante. Einstein’s Dreams. (2004?). An adaptation of Alan Lightman’s novel which supposes that Einstein’s dreams informed his inspiration for his theories of time, and takes a surreal look into his creative impulses. Time is measured in images with actors soliloquizing on its nature.

Churchill, Caryl. A Number. (2002). A father confronts three of his adult sons, two of whom are clones of the first. Churchill uses the scientific possibility of cloning to address the question of where personality comes from, nature or nurture.

Churchill, Caryl. A Number. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2003.

Clark, Ron. Pierre and Marie.

Clyman, Robert. The Secret Order. (1999-2000). About the pressures threatening to destroy a young scientist.

Cook, Peter and William Lanouette. Uranium + Peaches. (2004). In a fateful confrontation between the physicist Leo Szilard and James Burns, President Harry Truman’s mentor, science battles politics in a battle against the corruption of human ingenuity.

Congdon, Constance. No Mercy. (1994). About the first atomic bomb test and the men involved in the nuclear weapons program.
Congdon, Constance. “No Mercy.” Tales of the Lost Formicans: And Other Plays. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1994.

Daisey, Mike. Monopoly. (2005). The play explores the warped genius of physicist and inventor Nikola Tesla and his war with Thomas Edison over electricity – alternating current versus direct current – a battle that etched itself into the streets of New York City. The thread loops and whorls around the Microsoft historic antitrust lawsuit, the checkered history of the game Monopoly, and the story of the retail chain Wal-Mart.

D’Andrea, Paul and John Klein. The Einstein Project. (1985). The play’s construction is non-linear, with many short scenes cross-cutting between different time periods. It begins with the explosion of the atomic bomb, which Einstein had urged President Roosevelt to build, and flashes back to Einstein’s stint as a clerk in the Swiss patent office and his arguments with Fritz Haber during World War I about pacifism. D’Andrea, Paul and Jon Klein. The Einstein Project. New York: Dramatists Play Service, [1985?].

Davis, Allen. Red Pumps at Ground Zero. (2002). The protagonists are Latina twin sisters. One is a temporary office worker in the World Trade Center and the other is a doctoral candidate in neuroscience at the University of Chicago.

Doxiadis, Apostolos. Incompletenes: A Play and a Theorem. (2004) The final days of Kurt Godel in the hospital when he is refusing to eat and is challenged by a nutritionist who attempts to apply his own teachings on logic to persuade him to eat; he is also visited by the vision of mathematician David Hilbert.

Djerassi, Carl and Roald Hoffman. Oxygen. (2000). With scenes alternating between contemporary Sweden and 18th century France and England, the play asks who should be awarded the first, fictional, “Retro-Nobel” prize for a scientific discovery before the 20th century.
Djerassi, Carl and Roald Hoffman. Oxygen: A Play in Two Acts. New York: Wiley-VCH, 2001.

Djerassi, Carl. An Immaculate Misconception. (2001). A play by the inventor of the birth control pill about sex in the age of fertility treatments.
Djerassi, Carl. An Immaculate Misconception: Sex in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction. London: Imperial College P, 2000.

Djerassi, Carl. Calculus. (2003). Newton and the mathematician Leibnitz engage in a fierce priority struggle to determine who deserves the title of inventor of the calculus. The play concentrates on the peak of the struggle when, in 1712, the Royal Society convened a committee to decide the matter. First produced at the New End Theatre, London by Andy Jordan Productions. There is also a musical version, music by Werner Schulze, first produced in 2005 at the Zurich Opera.
Djerassi, Carl. [published under the title] Newton’s Darkness. London: Imperial College Press, 2003.

Dunn, Nell. Cancer Tales. (2001) Verbatim stories of five women with cancer (performed
at Kings College, London in May 2003).

Edson, Margaret. Wit. (a.k.a. W;t) (1999). Set in a hospital ward, the play depicts an uncompromising professor of metaphysical poetry who endures grueling treatments for ovarian cancer buttressed by her love of Donne’s Holy Sonnets and the late-budding friendships she never had.
Edson, Margaret. Wit. New York: Faber and Faber, 1999.

Edwards, Joseph B. The Day Einstein Died. (2004). The play takes place on April 18, 1955, the day the protagonist died in Princeton, New Jersey. Another character is the actor and social activist Paul Robeson. He gives fire to the story as he engages his friend Einstein in several controversies in which he played so prominent a role, particularly the struggle for equality of black people and the settlement of the displaced Jews of Europe.

Egan, David

Feldshuh, David. Miss Evers’ Boys. (1990). A story of the infamous Tuskegee experiment. During forty years, between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service conducted studies of 399 black men who had syphilis. The men, for the most part illiterate sharecroppers, were not told what disease they were suffering from or of its seriousness. Videotaped by The New York Public Library’s Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at Stamford Theatre Works, Stamford, Conn., March 16, 1998. Miss Evers’ Boys [videorecording] / Stamford Theatre Works, Steve Karp, producing director, Jane Desy, general manager, presents ; [written] by David Feldshuh ; directed by Lorna Littleway ;

Character Generators, Inc. ;

Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, Betty L. Corwin, director. Available to qualified researchers only. Housed at the New York Public Library Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, Call No. NCOV 2166.

Fenwick, Jean-Noel. Les Palmes de M. Schutz/Pierre and Marie. (2002). In a small laboratory in Paris in the 1800’s, Pierre and Marie Curie discover uranium, radium, and love. (English adaptation by Ron Clark). Fenwick, Jean-Noel. Les Palmes de M. Schutz: Roman. Paris: L’Archipel, 1997.

Flood, David H. and Rhonda L. Soricelli. The Seventh Chair: An Audience Encounter.
(1993) Brings together several famous fictional doctors, like Thsen’s Doctor Stockrnann, in a therapy session for doctors who are experiencing a crisis in professional identity. Published in a special issue of the journal Literature and Medicine.

Frontczak, Susan Marie. Manya. (2002?) One-woman show about Marie Curie.

Frayn, Michael. Copenhagen. (1998, 2000). Reenacts three plausible versions of the 1941 visit of Werner Heisenberg to his mentor and friend Niels Bohr in Nazi-occupied Denmark and applies the uncertainty principle to human knowledge and behavior.
Frayn, Michael. Copenhagen. New York: Anchor Books, 2000.

Friedman, Robert Marc. Remembering Miss Meitner. (2002). The co-discoverer and explicator of nuclear fission confronts Otto Hahn, who could have helped her to receive a share of his Nobel prize and Manne Siegbahn, who, while providing a refuge for her in his Swedish laboratory, did not provide her with the wherewithal for continuing her research.

Friel, Brian. Molly Sweeney. (1994). Based on neurologist Oliver Sack’s short story about a blind woman given an operation and the surprising and painful consequences of gaining her sight.
Friel, Brian. Molly Sweeney. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.

Frontczak, Susan Marie. Manya. (2002). One-woman show about Marie Curie.

Furse, Anna. Yerma’s Eggs. (2003) Performance piece exploring infertility, with textual
elements by Spanish playwright Llorca.

Giron, Arthur. Flight. Explores the lives of the Wright family of aviators in theatrical forms.
Giron, Arthur. Flight. New York: Samuel French, 1998.

Giron, Arthur. Moving Bodies. (1999-2000). Dramatizes the biography and contributions of the great, idiosyncratic physicist Richard Feynman, including his role in the building of the atomic bomb and the explanation of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Produced at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, New York.

Godfrey, Paul. The Blue Ball. (1995). About the space program.
Godfrey, Paul. The Blue Ball. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1995.

Groff, Rinne. The Five Hysterical Girls Theorem. (2000). A bunch of mathematicians at a British seaside resort in 1911 are busy digging for the proof that the number 2 to the 67th power minus 1 is not a prime number after all. Central to the plot is that the older we get, the longer we have to wait between prime numbers.

Gunderson, Lauren. Background. (2002). The physicists Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman deduced the existence of Cosmic Background Radiation in 1948. But few observers looked for it and it was only found accidentally in 1965. Alpher’s life and lack of recognition and the history of cosmology are recounted going backwards in time, illuminating both.

Gunderson, Lauren. Leap. (2002). Portrays Newton at the height of his creativity, when in the course of two years he invents calculus and develops the laws and an understanding of gravity, messengers engage Newton and inspire his brilliance.

Gunderson, Lauren. Wide World. (2004). Based on the meeting in 1804 of two fascinating men – Thomas Jefferson and the world renowned scientist, explorer and statesman Alexander von Humboldt.

Gunderson, Lauren. Mass. (2005). A one-woman show about Albert and Mileva Einstein’s child born out of wedlock and lost to history. It uses ideas of special relativity and Brownian motion and even some early aspects of quantum mechanics to describe Lieserl’s fictional journey to find and recognize her famous father.

Gutman, Les. Hypatia or The Divine Algebra. (2000). The 5th century mathematician, philosopher and inventor is considered so dangerous that Christian monks find it necessary to drag her through the streets of Alexandria and then to dismember and burn her body. The play constructs an imaginary trajectory from that spectacle through 8th century Byzantium and on to the early 20th century.

Hampton, Christopher. The Talking Cure. (2002). About the relationship between Freud and Jung.
Hampton, Christopher. The Talking Cure. London: Faber and Faber, 2002.

Harrison, Tony. Square Rounds. (1992) The story of Fritz Haber, the chemist whose
discoveries led to extreme good and extreme evil – the development of fertilizer, which in
turn would alleviate hunger, and the invention of the gas that was used in World War I on a devastating scale.

Hauptman, Ira. Partition. About the self-taught Indian mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan and his interaction with the leading British mathematician G. H. Hardy. After a few years in England, Ramanujan falls ill in part due to the clash of Western and Eastern cultures.

Hoar, Stuart. Rutherford. (2000). A play about Ernest Rutherford, the great physicist from New Zealand. The play focuses on the enigma that was Rutherford, follows his obsession with science and probes his personal relationships with his wife Mary, daughter Eileen, and friend and colleague, Piotr Kapitza.

Horovitz, Israel. (2003). Set in the world of chemistry research, this drama engages questions of love, integrity, promises, and compromise.

Hunter, Maureen. Transit of Venus. (1992). In France, at a time when society was rapidly expanding its knowledge of the earth and the cosmos, an ambitious astronomer and the women who love him exemplify the conflicting needs of men and women. Hunter, Maureen. Transit of Venus: A Play. Winnipeg: Blizzard Pub., 1992.

Irvine, Todd. Notes on the Uncertainty Principle. (1998).

Johns, Ariana. Neutrino. (2001). A chance meeting on a train between a wannabe stand-up comedian and a manic-depressive librarian and another story about a gay woman bringing her girlfriend home to meet her parents. Intercut with a series of short scenes is an increasingly quirky lecture on particle physics, delivered by a crazed lecturer whose ideas become more and more bizarre and mystical.

Johnson, Terry. Insignificance. (1982). Imagines a meeting between Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, and Joe DiMaggio in a hotel room.
Johnson, Terry. Insignificance. London: Methuen, 1982.

Jones, Charlotte. Humble Boy. (2002). A neurotic fictional astrophysicist in a dysfunctional family tries to create a “theory of everything” out of string theory and general relativity.
Jones, Charlotte. Humble Boy. London: Faber and Faber, 2001.

Kipphardt, Heinar. In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer. (1964, translator Ruth Speirs). This quasi-documentary play is based on the verbatim text of the 1954 hearings regarding Oppenheimer’s security clearance, although the closing speech is not what Oppenheimer said, but what the author wishes he had said.
Kipphardt, Heinar. In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Play Freely Adapted on the Basis of the Documents by Heinar Kipphardt. Trans. Ruth Speirs. New York: Hill and Wang, 1969.

Kopit, Arthur. Y2K. (a.k.a. Year 2000). (1999). Deals with the threats to our privacy when computer hackers invade our lives via the Internet.
Kopit, Arthur. Y2K. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2000.

Kushner, Tony. Angels in America. (1991) Although not thought of as first and foremost a science play, it was one of the first plays to deal in depth with the science and medical
treatment of AIDS.

Landau, Tina. Space. (1998). Drama concerning a neuropsychiatrist studying patients who report being abducted by aliens. In the course of his investigation the doctor encounters imagined versions of Galileo, Darwin, Freud, and Dr. Stephen Hawking. Space [videorecording] / Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Martha Lavey, artistic director, Michael Gennaro, managing director, presents ; written and directed by Tina Landau ;

Stucker ;

Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, Betty L. Corwin, director. Videotaped by The New York Public Library’s Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Chicago, Ill., Jan. 24, 1998. Restricted to qualified researchers. New York Public Library Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, Call No. NCOV 2149. A copy of the program is also available.

Lavik, Em. Galileo Walking Among the Stars. (2004) Written by an assistant professor of
biomedical engineering at Yale, the play imagines Galileo, Kepler, Han-jot, and Gene Kelly building a space ship in order to be among the stars rather than just look at them from afar.

Lawrence, Jeremy. Albert in Wonderland. (2005). A one-man show about Albert Einstein, based in part on quotations from The Expanded Quotable Einstein and from The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. This play mostly depicts a more somber, disappointed and tragic figure than most of the other Einstein plays.

Murakami, Theater de

Peyret, Jean-Francois and Alain Prochiantz. Des Chim~res en automne, ou l?impromptu de Chaillot. (2003) A three-hander contemplating the differences and similarities between humans and apes, with Darwin and Kafka as its motivating and interconnected forces.

Peyret, Jean-F. and A. Prochiantz. Les Variations Darwin. (2004) Further meditations on
the frontier between human and ape, with Darwin’s ideas and Ovid’s Metamorphoses as
inspirational sources.

Mac Low, Clarinda, James Hannaham, and Tanya Barfield. The Division of Memory. (2001). At the end of his life, an African-American research biologist reflects on his place in the twentieth century.

Magnus, Bryn. World Set Free. (2002). The interactions of urban black teenagers with Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard and other scientists who, at the time, in 1942, were producing the first nuclear chain reaction in the pile under Stagg Field at the University of Chicago.

Mamet, David. The Water Engine. (1977). An inventor manages to remove the H from H2O and invents an engine that uses plain distilled water as fuel.
Mamet, David. The Water Engine: An American Fable and Mr. Happiness: Two Plays. New York: Grove Press, 1978.

Martin, Steve. Picasso at the Lapin Agile. (1996). A farcical comedy that imagines a meeting between Picasso and Einstein in a café in Paris.
Martin, Steve. Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays. New York: Grove Press, 1996.

McGrath, Tom. Safe Delivery. (1999). Set at the cutting edge of medicine, the play makes the point that science and scientists are not as pure as we have been led to believe.

Medley, Cassandra. Relativity. (2003). Race, power and professionalism collide in this play. Should a young African-American genetic researcher support her famous activist mother, who promotes a theory that blacks are genetically superior to whites?

Miyagawa, Chiori and James Lattis. Comet Hunter. (2003) Explores the life of 18th century German astronomer Caroline Herschel, the first woman to identify a comet, and her brother William, the famous astronomer and identifier of the planet Uranus.

Mullin, Paul. Louis Slotin Sonata. (2001). A flamboyant and emotional treatment of a real accident caused by a real scientist at Los Alamos and an indictment of the scientists who built the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan.

Nachtmann, Rita. Thread of Life. (2003). The role of Rosalind Franklin in the discovery of the structure of DNA.

Parnell, Peter. QED. (2001). About Richard Feynman, the celebrated (and sometimes self-celebrating) Nobel prize-winning physicist. What we get in this almost one-man show-Feynman is impersonated by Alan Alda – is part biography and part physics lesson. Inspired by the writings of Richard Feynman and Ralph Leighton’s Tuva or bust! Includes a foreword by Alan Alda.

Parnell, Peter. QED: A Play. New York: Applause, 2002.

Parker, Norman. Feynman Lives! A one-man tribute to the brilliant and irrepressible physicist Richard Feynman, who won a Nobel prize, kept people awake by playing bongo drums, and wrote a best seller.

Penniston, Penny. Now Then Again. (2005). A nerdy and neurotic, but brilliant theoretical physics post-doc, Henry, tries to persuade an extraordinarily bright and precocious physics undergraduate, Ginny, to stay on at the university and work with him. However Penny marries a dull and conventional long time friend from her hometown and they return to South Carolina where she will live out her life as a genteel housewife. The second act replays much of the first, but backwards, with ever-greater departures from the original.

Perkowitz, Sidney. Friedmann’s Balloon. A play about Russian scientist Alexander Friedmann who challenged theories of Albert Einstein, but was also an ace World War I bombardier and a great balloonist.

Perkowitz, Sidney. Glory Enough. A dramatization of the British physicist Rosalind Franklin’s contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA in the late 1950’s. That discovery earned a Nobel prize for three men, but little glory for Franklin. The play tells of this injustice, mingled with snapshots of her brief life (she died at 37) and raises questions about scientific ethics and male views of women in science.

Pinner, David. Newton’s Hooke. (2003) A play based on the lives and politics of those key figures of the Royal Society, Newton and Hooke, who helped to shape the institution as well as the science of physics.

Poliakoff, Stephen. Blinded by the Sun. (1996). The media’s affect on modern scientific research, with a prominent team of scientists pressured to fake a groundbreaking discovery.
Poliakoff, Stephen. Blinded by the Sun: Sweet Panic. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1996.

Reich, Steve and Beryl Korot. Three Tales. (2002) A multimedia collaboration, consisting of three sequences for live instrumentalists, singers, and video projection, amounting to a parable of man’s Faustian bargain with technology (M. Billington in the Guardian, 9/19/02).

Reingold, Jaquelyn. String Fever. (2003). In this comedy, which starred Cynthia Nixon and Evan Handler Off-Broadway, Lily juggles the big issues: turning forty, artificial insemination and the elusive scientific Theory of Everything. Lily’s world includes an Icelandic comedian, her wisecracking best friend, a cat-loving physicist, her no-longer-suicidal father and an ex-boyfriend who carries around a chair.
Reingold, Jaquelyn. String Fever. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 2003.

Shaw, Jane Catherine. The Lone Runner: The Mythical Life Journey of Nikola Tesla. (1999). A puppet melodrama about a pioneer in electrical engineering whose name has been obscured by the achievements of Marconi and Westinghouse. The author uses excerpts from Faust to lend lyrical intensity to Tesla’s obsessive search for immortality through his most important work, the development of alternating electrical current.

Sherman, Jonathan Marc. Evolution. (1998). A morality play about an academic studying Charles Darwin who is offered a job in the entertainment industry. The World Premiere took place at the 1998 Williamstown Theatre Festival.

Simms, Willard. Einstein, A Stage Portrait. (1984). A one-man show about Albert Einstein.

Smith, Anna Deavere. Untitled. (2000). A one-woman show about doctors, patients and their narratives.

Singer, Elyse. Frequency Hopping. In 1949, Hedy Lamarr, the “most beautiful woman in the world” and the composer George Antheil, the “bad boy of music,” met at a Hollywood dinner party. Two years later, they received a patent for an invention of a model of wireless communication. Based on the story of their extraordinary collaboration and friendship, the author has written a darkly comic play about connecting with another person who operates at the same frequency.

Speier, Susanna. Calabi Yau. (2002). A “string-theory” comedy in which New York subway workers try to build a particle accelerator in abandoned subway tunnels.

Stanley, Jeffrey. Tesla’s Letters. (2003). The electrical engineer Tesla’s use of a rotating electromagnetic field brought great advances to the use of electrical power. In 1997, undaunted by the war between Serbs and Croats, a twenty-seven year old American graduate student arrives at the Tesla Museum in Belgrade to look at Tesla’s letters. The museum’s administrator has other plans for her. Produced in 1999 at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York.
Stanley, Jeffrey. Tesla’s Letters. New York: Samuel French, [2003?].

Stephenson, Shelagh. An Experiment with an Air Pump. (1999). About Peter Mark Roget and medical experimentation’s ethical dimensions. Videotaped by The New York Public Library’s Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at Manhattan Theatre Club, City Center Stage I, New York, N.Y., Dec. 10, 1999. Videotape viewing restricted to qualified researchers. Stephenson, Shelagh. An Experiment with an Air Pump [videorecording]. Performance director, Doug Hughes. Video Director, Penny Ward. Housed at the New York Public Library Performing Arts Library, Call No. NCOV 2377. Copy of program also available.
Stephenson, Shelagh. An Experiment with an Air Pump. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1988.

Stoppard, Tom. Arcadia. (1993). Chaos theory, landscape gardening and literary history in a country house in England, alternating contemporary with 18th century scenes.
Stoppard, Tom. Arcadia. London: Faber and Faber, 2000.

Stoppard, Tom. Galileo. (1970). Unpublished play that challenges Brecht’s Galileo.

Stoppard, Tom. Hapgood. (1988). Spy games interwoven with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and other aspects of Quantum Mechanics.
Stoppard, Tom. Hapgood. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1994.

Théâtre de Complicité. Mnemonic. (1999). Devised by the company, it is a co-production of Théâtre de Complicité and the Salzburger Festpiele. This piece is about memory, connection, and evolution, with the Iceman as its starting point.
Théâtre de Complicité. Mnemonic. London: Methuen Drama, 1999.

Thiessen, Vern. Einstein’s Gift. (2003). A presentation of the lifework of Fritz Haber, a renowned, patriotic German-Jewish chemist, set against the rise and fall of Germany at the turn of the 20th century and the, for Haber, disastrous rise of Hitler’s Third Reich. The play highlights the story of Haber’s relationship with Albert Einstein.
Thiessen, Vern. Einstein’s Gift. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2003.

Weliman, Mac. Hypatia, or The Divine Algebra. (2000). Hypatia, the 5th Century
mathematician, pagan philosopher and inventor, was considered so inherently dangerous that Christian monks found it necessary to drag her through the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, before dismembering and then burning her body. The play follows Hypatia’s imaginary trajectory from that spectacle through 8th Century Byzantium and then on to the early 20th century. (Elyse Sommer, on-line review,

Wells, Matthew. Schrödinger’s Girlfriend. (2002). The eponymous author of the “Schrödinger’s Cat” paradox applies the lessons of quantum mechanics to a torrid love affair.

Wertenbaker, Timberlake. After Darwin. (1998). Two present-day actors put on a play about Darwin and the captain of the Beagle. The action alternates between the present and the past, exploring the parallel between biological and social Darwinism. Wertenbaker, Timberlake. After Darwin. London: Faber and Faber, 1998.
Wertenbaker, Timberlake. Galileo’s Daughter.

Wesker, Arnold. Longitude. (2002). Based on the book Longitude by Dava Sobel. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors had frequently been lost at sea. John Harrison dared to imagine a mechanical solution – a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had been able to do on land. The play shows Harrison’s life as undergoing a series of body blows at a time when science, engineering and manufacturing are on the brink of the Industrial Revolution. Commissioned play: written in 2002; scheduled to be performed October 12, 2005 at the Greenwich Theatre, dir. Fiona Laird.

Whittell, Crispin. Darwin in Malibu. (2003). Charles Darwin has wound up in a beach house overlooking the Pacific with a girl young enough to be his daughter. Believing that the heated debate about the origin of species is far behind him, Darwin now finds guidance from tabloid horoscopes and trashy beach reading. But when his old friend Thomas Huxley washes up on the beach with the bishop of Oxford, he finds himself entangled in a life and death comedy about God, science, love, loss and the sex life of barnacles.
Whittell, Crispin. Darwin in Malibu. London: Methuen, 2003.

Whitemore, Hugh. Breaking the Code. (1986) A play about code-breaker Turing and Enigma during World War II.

Wilson, Lanford. The Mound Builders. (1986). Explores the world of archeology and how it relates to contemporary life.
Wilson, Lanford. The Mound Builders: A Play. New York: Hill and Wang, 1976.

Wilson, Lanford. Rain Dance. (2003). Set in Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1945, on the eve of the birth of the atomic bomb. In the tranquil beauty of the desert, four individuals involved in the historic Manhattan Project count down to its inevitable conclusion. As the culmination of their work approaches, each wrestles with the weight of responsibility for an event that will change the world forever. Videotaped at Signature Theatre Company, on June 20, 2003. Wilson, Lanford. Rain Dance [videorecording], directed by Guy Sanville. Video director: Penny Ward. Video Producer: Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, Patrick Hoffman, director. Videotape restricted to qualified researchers and housed at the New York Public Library’s Billy Rose Theatre Collection, Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, Call No. NCOV 2736.

Wilson, Snoo. Darwin’s Flood. (1994) Darwin, Nietzsche, Jesus and Mary Magdalene meet and match wits.

Musicals and Operas

Biospheria. (2001). An opera by Steven Ausbury and Anthony Burr, based on aspects of the unsuccessful environmentalist experiment at Biosphere 2, a 200 million dollar greenhouse erected north of Tucson in the early 1990’s.

Defenders of the Code. (1987). A musical by Theodora Skipitares. Covers everything from creation myths to theories of eugenics, and incorporates Plato’s Republic, Darwin’s Origin of Species, and Watson’s Double Helix into a collage.

Einstein on the Beach. (1976). Opera by Robert Wilson and Philip Glass. Two sound recordings and one videotaped recording are listed.
Glass, Philip and Robert Wilson. Einstein on the Beach [sound recording]: Opera in Four Acts. New York: Tomato Music Co., 1978.
Glass, Philip and Robert Wilson. Einstein on the Beach [sound recording]: Opera in Four Acts. New York: CBS Records, 1984.
Glass, Philip and Robert Wilson. Einstein on the Beach [videorecording]: the changing image of opera/ an Obenhaus Film produced for the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Los Angeles: Direct Cinema, 1987.

Einstein’s Dreams. (2002-2003). Music by Joshua Rosenblum, book by Joanne Sydney Lessner. Loosely based on the novel Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman. A tone poem of ruminations on time and mortality in early 20th century Switzerland.

Einstein’s Dreams. (2005). Another musical setting, by Albert Innaurato and Marjorie Samoff, based on Alan Lightman’s eponymous novel. It shows Einstein as a young man with no money, a troubled marriage, an illegitimate baby, bohemian intellectual friends, and a burning passion to discover the mysteries of the universe. Each of the dreams becomes a musical interlude, using different kinds of music to suggest motion, stasis, repetition, timelessness, and moving backwards in time.
Fermat’s Last Tango. (2000). Pythagoras, Newton, Euclid, and Gauss are characters in a mathematical musical by Joanne Sydney Lessner and Joshua Rosenblum.
Lessner, Joanne Sydney and Joshua Rosenblum. Fermat’s Last Tango [soundtrack]. Original Cast Recording. Produced October 9, 2001. ASIN: B00005QZMA
First in Flight, The Wright Brothers. (2003). Music by Joseph Zellnik, book and lyrics by David Zellnik, based on the play Flight by Arthur Giron. A musical which celebrates the centennial of the Wright brothers’ successful flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903.

Galileo Galilei. (2002). A chamber opera with different takes from Brecht’s play by Philip Glass. Libretto by Mary Zimmerman with Philip Glass and Arnold Weinstein. Directed by Mary Zimmerman at Brooklyn Academy of Music Howard Gilman Opera House. Videotaped on October 3, 2002.
Glass, Philip. Galileo Galilei [videorecording]. Permission required to view videotape and notes, which are on file at New York Public Library R & H, Call No. LVH 2060, as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music Collection.

Imperfect Chemistry. (2000). A musical comedy by Albert M. Tapper (music) and James Racheff (book and lyrics). Two geneticists at a philanthropic laboratory are seduced into finding a cure for baldness. Broadway recording taped November 27, 2001. Tapper, Albert M. and James Racheff. Imperfect Chemistry [sound recording]: A New Musical Comedy. Georgetown, CT: Original Cast Records, 2001.

Quark Victory. (2000). A musical by Robert and Willie Reale in which a young girl journeys through a sub-atomic world occupied by dancing electrons and singing neutrinos.
Reale, Robert and Willie Reale. Quark Victory. New York: Dramatists Play Service, [2000?].

Star Messengers. (2001). A quasi-opera by Paul Zimet and Ellen Meadow which shows Galileo, Tycho Brahe, and Kepler interacting with three harlequins from one of Galileo’s books.

The Ballad of Phineas P. Gage. (2002). In 1848 an iron rod passed through the head of Phineas P. Gage, and he survived. But how did he live? The work explores this groundbreaking neurological case through puppetry, music, and poetry.

The Electric Sunshine Man. (1978). A musical about Thomas Edison. Music by John F. Wilson, words by Grace Hawthorne. Mainly for children.

The Oracle of Delphi. (2000). Script by Anne Gaud McKee, music by Christian Denisart, choreography by Markus Schmid. A pantomime about P.A.M. Dirac’s theoretical discovery of the positron and of antimatter.

Three Tales. (2002). Steve Reich’s and Beryl Korot’s multimedia collaboration, consisting of three sequences for instrumentalists, singers, and video projection. A parable of man’s Faustian bargain with technology. Performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Howard Gilman Opera House on October 18, 2002. There is a videotaped recording on file at the New York Public Library Performing Arts Library – R & H, Call No. LVH 2062. Written permission from Brooklyn Academy of Music required for use. Notes/house program also on file.

Zyklon. (2004). An opera by Peter King and Julian Barry based on the horrifying story of German-Jewish chemist Fritz Haber, who received a Nobel prize for his discovery of nitrogen fixation and became the inventor of chemical warfare weapons which, under his guidance, were used by Germany in World War I and in the Nazi extermination camps of World War II.

Compiled by:

Marvin Carlson:
Brain Schwartz: