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Atomic Bombers

Written and Directed by Russell Vandenbroucke

Scenic & Lighting Design Paul Owen

Costume Design Zhanna Goldentul

Sound Arrangement Garry Brown and Tommy Neville

Stage Manager Mo Stucker

Acting/Voice/Dialect Coach Amy Cotterill

This play is informed by scores of books, articles, and reminiscences, but the author is especially indebted to Richard P. Feynman for his permission to use Surely You're Joking, Mr.Feynman  (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985).

Cast (in order of speaking)

Richard Feynman Reese Fisher

Leo Szilard Conrad Newman

Laura Fermi Ashley Smith

Enrico Fermi David Galloway

Arline Greenbaum Feynman Casandre Medel

Robert Wilson Jacob Bolton

Arthur Compton John Lina

J. Robert Oppenheimer Jake Hassler

General Leslie Groves Erik Lewis

Leona Woods, railroad clerk Lauren Schoenbaechler

Hans Bethe Richard VerWiebe Jr.

Klaus Fuchs Derek Whale

Chorus of grad students, scientists, and citizensLauren Schoenbaechler, James Thompson, Derek Wahle, Hamid Yacob

Voice Overs Tommy Neville, Collin Sage



Atomic Bombers is set during World War Two, 1939-1945, as conjured by the memories of Richard Feynman and his hindsight of the 1960s.



Act I: College Cloisters

Prologue: The Prize!, Stockholm Concert Hall

1: New-Found Land, Columbia University lab

2: College Scholarship, Columbia lab

3: Princeton Tiger, Princeton University dorm

4: Industrial Columbia, Columbia lab

5: Princeton Industry, Princeton dorm

6: Chicago Blues, bare stage in New York

7: College All Stars, University of Chicago Met Lab

8: Love Letters, Princeton dorm and Long Island hospital

9: Fermi Courts, University of Chicago quad

10: Beautiful Spacious Skies, Los Alamos mesa

11: Los Alamos Litany, separate domiciles

12: For Every Action . . . Met Lab squash court

Act II: Purple Mountain Majesties

1: Trained Connections, railway station and train

2: Conferring, Los Alamos lab

3: One . . . and Counting, Albuquerque sanitarium

4: Numeracy, Los Alamos lab

5: Literacy, Los Alamos dorm, lab, and Albuquerque Sanitarium

6: This Land Is Your Land, Chicago courtroom, Los Alamos lab, Met Lab

7: Beloved Letters, Los Alamos dorm, Albuquerque Sanitarium, Met Lab

8: Wins, Los Alamos lab, Met Lab

9: Losses, Los Alamos lab, Presbyterian Sanitarium, Met Lab

10: Franck Opinions, Los Alamos lab, Met Lab

11: All Hallowed Eve, New Mexico desert, Met Lab

Epilogue: The Prize?


For a chronology surrounding Atomic Bombers plot and characters, please click here.


There will be one 12-minute intermission.

"Plays Aren't Written, They're Rewritten"


       Dion Boucicault's adage certainly applies to Atomic Bombers.  It began in 1984 as an hour-long staged reading at the literary cabaret of the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, directed by Bob Berlinger. It was then called Los Alamos from Below, included only three characters, and was based on Richard Feynman’s essay of the same name. I had found it in a history of science collection about the bomb. When I telephoned the editor seeking permission, he replied gregariously, “You won’t have trouble with any of the contributors except Feynman.” His was the only article that invited theatrical presentation. Undaunted, I reached Feynman through the president of Cal Tech where Feynman taught. He gave me one-time permission, attended a single performance near the end of the short run, and said he liked what I had done (except for my lame effort to explain Feynman diagrams, part of the reason he won the Nobel Prize).

       Subsequently, I sought his permission to continue working on the piece. He replied in the distinctive New Yorkese I love to imitate, “Ya know, ya know, I’ve got a reputation for being hard to get along with. But you an’ me, you an’ me, we do ok.” I offered a percentage of future royalties, which he accepted, and he asked that I credit a book to be published the following year. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman became a best seller and introduced Feynman to laymen. (He was already a legend among physicists.) Curiously, neither Feynman nor his heirs has ever cashed my checks for his share of the modest royalties.

       Los Alamos from Below was only performed a few more times–on public radio in Los Angeles, a staged reading or two at non-profit theatres, including one at Arena Stage in Washington D.C. in support of The Nuclear Freeze Movement.

       After moving to Chicago in 1987 to become Artistic Director of Northlight Theatre, I imagined a fully theatrical play that would encompass the start of the bomb in New York (hence the name “Manhattan Project”) and the first controlled chain reaction in Chicago. I relished the challenge of creating a nuclear experiment as the climax to Act One and the Trinity explosion as the climax to Act Two. Could these be dramatized in the presence of a live audience?

       Since research and reading are always easier for me than actual writing, my notions remained in my head rather than flowing to paper until the summer of 1994 when Northlight lost its home for the second time in four years. I despaired for the company's future and for the people onstage and off who had contributed so much to it over the years. Since it was summer, our dark time, I had no plays to direct or produce. I needed a vivifying focus amidst the despair of leading a struggling arts organization: Searching for a new theatre during the day, I wrote Atomic Bombers at night.

       Susan Lowenberg of Los Angeles Theatre Works asked to read the script for her series of classic and contemporary plays presented to a live audience then broadcast on public radio. She produced Atomic Bombers in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima.

       Meanwhile, Northlight meandered about Chicagoland without a permanent home until we seized a solution to our intermittent homelessness by becoming the resident theatre of the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, then under construction. When Northlight President Steve Mullins asked why I had not suggested Atomic Bombers as a future production, I replied that I thought it too large for us. Twisting my arm ever so gently, he suggested I might not be giving my play its due: Atomic Bombers opened Northlight's permanent home under the direction of Alan Macvey in 1997.

       In the summer of 2000 I directed it in Arizona in rep with Brecht's Galileo, a great play that also uses the past to explore the intersection of science and society in the present.

       Although I started college intending to be a mathematician, science and technology did not entice me to the terrain of Atomic Bombers. Rather, I was drawn by its confluence of possibilities: the paradox of normal people contributing to violence, the commonplace occurrence of educated and privileged men (and women) ignoring their responsibilities to others, and the oh-too-familiar knowledge of acting first, thinking second.  I trust audiences will find their own meaning.

Russell Vandenbroucke ran or helped to run professional theatres in Chicago, St. Louis, and Los Angeles before joining UofL as Professor and Chair of Theatre Arts in 2001. As a producer, director, playwright, or dramaturg he has premiered scores of new American plays and was the dramaturg at the inception of the Sundance Playwrights Conference.  His plays include: Eleanor: In Her Own Words, which won an Emmy and was broadcast by PBS; Atomic Bombers, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima and later opened Northlight Theatre's permanent home in the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts; School Play, inspired by the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. The Board of Education; and Soldiers Circle, which premiered at UofL in 2009.  His adaptation in verse of The Trojan Women by Euripides premiered at UofL in 2004.  Holiday Memories, his adaptation of two Truman Capote stories, has been produced at scores of theatres throughout the country.  Books include Truths the Hand Can Touch: The Theatre of Athol Fugard, Contemporary Australian Plays (editor), and The Theatre Quotation Book: A Treasury of Insights and Insults. As a stage director and member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, he has mounted productions in California, Virginia, Indiana, St. Louis, and his native Chicago. Vandenbroucke has been a Fulbright Scholar in Australia and a World Peace Fellow at the Rotary Center for Peace and Conflict Studies of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok Thailand.  In addition to his work in Theatre Arts, he serves as Director of UofL's new program in Peace, Justice & Conflict Transformation.

Jacob Bolton (Robert Wilson), Mammoth Cave, KY, is a sophomore Theatre Arts major.  He recently appeared in various roles in Richard III.  Past credits elsewhere include Adam in The History of America, Abridged, Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Buddy in The Weird Sisters, all at Edmonson County High School.

Reese Fisher (Richard Feynman), Crestwood, KY, is a freshman majoring in Theatre Arts and French.  He recently appeared as Prologue in The Flu Season.  He recently served as Director of Nightfall with Edgar Allen Poe at South Oldham High School and appeared at Titus Savage in The Curious Savage at Little Colonel Playhouse.  He also served as Usher Captain at Actors Theatre of Louisville for three years.

David Galloway (Enrico Fermi), Clinton, SC, is a first-year MFA student in Performance.  He earned his BA from Presbyterian College.  He recently appeared in various roles in Richard III.  Past credits elsewhere include various roles in Hairspray! and Sam Weinberg in A Few Good Men, both at the Workshop Theatre, and Egeus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Sir Thurio in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, both at the South Carolina Shakespeare Company. 

Jake Hassler (J. Robert Oppenheimer), Louisville, KY, is a sophomore Theatre Arts major.  He recently appeared as Buckingham in Richard III.  Past credits include Mortimer Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace, Charlie Brown in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Flash Harry in Dry Rot, and Buckley Dunstan in Father of the Bride, all in Oxford, England.

Erik Lewis (General Leslie Groves), Brooklyn, NY, is a junior at UofL.  Past productions at UofL include Soldier #1 in The Orphan of Chao and Lucio in Measure for Measure.  Past credits elsewhere include Heinsly in Pajama Game, Mr. Wells in Moonlight Room, Private Driscoll in Bury the Dead, and Braxton in Mighty Gents, all at N.C.C. Theatre.

John Lina (Arthur H. Compton), St. Louis, MO, is a Continuing Studies student at UofL studying Theatre and French.  He earned his Bachelor’s degree from Missouri Institute of Science & Technology and his Master’s degree from William & Mary College. Previous productions at UofL include Old Montague in Romeo and Juliet, various roles in Abe Lincoln and Uncle Tom in the Whitehouse, and Voltaire in Zadig.  He has also performed for the Little Colonel Playhouse and Whodunnit Murder Mystery Theatre of Kentucky.

Casandre Medel (Arline Greenbaum Feynman), Louisville, KY, is a sophomore Theatre Arts major.  She recently appeared as Patsy in Laundry and Lies at UofL’s Studio Theatre.  Past credits elsewhere include Christina Mundy in Dancing at Lughnasa at YPAS.

Conrad Newman (Leo Szilard), Greenville, KY, is a third-year MFA student in Performance.  He earned his BA in Theatre from the University of Kentucky.  Past productions at UofL include Man in The Flu Season, Frank in A Perfect Wedding, Duke Vincentio in Measure for Measure, and Keith in Betty’s Summer Vacation.  Past credits elsewhere include Daniel Boone with Blue Jacket Outdoor Drama in Xenia, Ohio, Demetrius in Titus Andronicus and Constantine in Big Love, both at the University of Kentucky, and Peter Kinney in Johnny Appleseed with Johnny Appleseed Outdoor Drama in Mansfield, OH.  He is also trained in all eight weapons offered by the Society of American Fight Directors.

Lauren Schoenbaechler (Chorus), Louisville, KY, is a sophomore Theatre Arts major.  This is her debut production.

Ashley Smith (Laura Fermi), Louisville, KY, is a first-year MFA student in Performance.  She earned her BA in Theatre from the University of Kentucky.  She recently appeared as Rivers in Richard III.  Past credits elsewhere include Little Red in Once upon a Wolf at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, Sarah in Dracula at the Kentucky Repertory Theatre, Sister James in Doubt, and Lavinia in Titus Andronicus, both at the University of Kentucky.

James Thompson (Chorus), Louisville, KY, is a sophomore double majoring in Spanish and Theatre Arts.  Previous productions at UofL include various roles in Richard III, Nilly in Sausage Eaters (Studio Theatre) and Edmund in A Perfect Wedding.  He recently appeared as Alfred in Death by Chocolate at Jeffersontown High School.

Richard C. Verwiebe Jr. (Hans Bethe), Fort Wayne, IN, is making his debut production at UofL.  He earned his BA from Indiana University, his MA from the University of Alabama, and his MS from Syracuse University.  He has performed in numerous productions as part of the Fort Wayne Civic Youth Theatre.  He is currently serving in administration at Western High School.

Derek Wahle (Chorus), Louisville, KY, is a junior Theatre Arts major.  Past productions at UofL’s Studio Theatre include Bartholomew in A Night at the Restaurant, Man in Suit in Bloody Mary, and Metzer in Don’t Call Her Bitch!.

Hamid Yacob (Chorus), Shleper, Iraq, is a sophomore Dentistry major.  This is his debut production at UofL.  He recently appeared as Steven in Coal Black Mountain at JCTC. 

Paul Owen (Scenic and Lighting Design) began his fifty year career in the theatre as one of the pioneers of the resident/regional movement at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas in 1960.  He left the Alley after ten years as Resident Designer in 1970.  He came to Louisville in 1971 as the Resident Designer for Actors Theatre of Louisville where he remained for the next thirty-eight years.  He semi-retired in 2009, but continues to freelance design for various venues.

Zhanna Goldentul (Costume) is the resident Costume Designer for the Theatre Arts Department.  Her recent designs for the department include Richard III, The Laramie  Project, A Song for Coretta, Come Down Burning, Titus  Andronicus, Cage Rhythm, Romeo and Juliet, Blithe Spirit, and many others.  She is a graduate of the Theatrical Art College in Moscow and earned her MA in Fine Arts from UofL.  She has designed costumes at Stage One: Louisville Children’s Theatre, and has been a member of the United Scenic Artists' Union since 1993.

Garry Brown (Sound Arrangement) Production Manager for UofL Theatre Arts, supervises the production of scenery, properties, lighting, and sound.  His design and production experience locally includes the Kentucky  Shakespeare Festival, Stage One: Louisville Children’s Theatre, and Music Theatre Louisville.  He holds an MFA from the University of Memphis and teaches stagecraft, sound design, and  welding.

Tommy Neville (Sound Arrangement) Atlanta, GA, is a senior Theater Arts Major.  He recently served as the Soundboard Operator for How Orisanmi Chose His Head, as well as Lighting Operator for The Flu Season and Sound Arranger for Blues for an Alabama Sky.  He has also served as Sound Designer for such productions as Richard III, Measure for Measure, and A Perfect Wedding at UofL, and appeared as Heath Ledger in Hell's Awesome and Donny in Lambs (Studio Theatre).  Past credits elsewhere include the role of Lord Chamberlain with the Ballard Madrigals of 2007 and 2008.  He is also the Sound Engineer for the Theater Arts Department.


Amy Cotterill (Acting/Dialect/Voice Coach) is an actor, playwright, educator, and scholar.  She is an Adjunct Faculty member at both University of Louisville and KCTCS where she teaches Voice, Playscript Interpretation, Acting, and Introduction to Theatre.  She earned her MFA in Theatre Performance from University of Louisville and most recently published research on Wole Soyinka’s Theory of the Fourth Stage in Black Masks Magazine.  She has appeared in numerous roles from Shakespeare’s tragedies to contemporary comedies and currently has two plays in development.  

Mo Stucker (Stage Manager), LaGrange, KY, is a junior Theatre Arts major.  She recently served as Stage Manager for The Flu Season, Lighting Operator for How Orisanmi Chose His Head, Wardrobe Crew for Measure for Measure and Betty’s Summer Vacation, and Stage Manager for King Arthur’s Socks and Wanda’s Visit (Studio Theatre).

Brandon Rousch (Assistant Director), Merrillville, IN, is a freshman Theatre Arts major.  This is his debut production at UofL.  Past credits elsewhere include Charlie Brown in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown at The Star Theatre, Willard Hughes in Footloose at The Center for Rural Development, and Ponyboy  in The Outsiders at the Chicago Opera House.

Meredith Johnson (Assistant Costume Design), Wilder, KY, is a senior Theatre Arts major.  She recently served on the costume crew for The Colored Museum and is currently the Wardrobe Master and a Stitcher in the Theatre Arts Department Costume Shop.

Assistant Stage Manager John Radeke

Assistant to the Director Brandon Rousch

Technical Director Garry Brown

Associate Technical Director/ Scene Shop Foreman Charles A. Nasby

Assistant to the Scenic Designer Michelle Gentry

Scenic Construction Kelly Anne Bunch, Logan Dorne, Michelle Gentry, Collin Sage, Derek Wahle, TA 241 Stagecraft II

Production Buyer David Galloway

Costume Shop Manager Melissa K. Shepherd

Costume Construction Blair Boyd, James Coomer, Amanda Hinds, Meredith Johnson, Hannah Pruitt

Assistant to the Costume Designer Meredith Johnson

Wardrobe Master Meredith Johnson

Assistant Wardrobe Master James Coomer

Costume Buyer Hannah Pruitt

Costume Crew Jennier Siow, James Thompson

Properties Managers Amos Dreisbach, Deanna Gillispie

Properties Crew Hannah Greene, Janine Hogan, Ashley McKenzie

Assistant to the Lighting Designer Lauren Camargo

Master Electricians Lauren Camargo, Nick Potter, Mo Stucker

Lighting Operator Deanna Gillispie

Sound Engineer Tommy Neville

Sound Operator Alee Meredith

Box Office Manager Melanie Henry

Box Office Staff Beth Burrell, Jody Ann Henry, Will Salmons

House Manager James Coomer

In Memory of Arthur Cyril Vandenbroucke, Sr. gentle man, hardware man

Check us out on Facebook at University of Louisville-Department of Theatre Arts.

Special Thanks David Brown, Department of Physics; Quarter Master Rentals; Stagecraft 241-01; Actors Theatre of Louisville; George Pack, Department of Chemistry

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