:Left to right: Brian Salmon, R. David Robinson and D.W. Jacobs in "Uranium + Peaches." Photo by Melissa Jacobs / Salk Institute
How might the world be different today had the United States not dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in August of 1945? That’s one of many provocative questions raised by “Uranium + Peaches,” a new play by Peter Cook and William Lanouette which received its world premiere performance last Thursday at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla. Lanouette is the author of “A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb,” and Szilard is one of three characters in the play based on a real-life meeting in Spartanburg, S.C. in which Szilard, a protégé of Einstein’s, and Manhattan Project chemist Harold Urey tried in vain to dissuade President Harry Truman’s adviser Jimmy Byrnes from sanctioning the use of the newly developed A-bomb on Japanese cities.
The one-act “Uranium + Peaches” was staged in the Salk Institute’s Conrad T. Prebys Auditorium under the direction of Delicia Turner-Sonnenberg, one of the best in San Diego theater. Her cast: Brian Salmon as the cocky, faux-gracious Jimmy Byrnes; D.W. Jacobs as the caustic Urey; and R. David Robinson portraying Szilard, who goes from plaintive to desperate to sadly resigned by the end of the fruitless meeting in South Carolina. The June 21 performance was a staged reading, with the actors still on book, and only Salmon was able to make the audience forget about the presence of scripts. But the tense drama, a bit over an hour in length, has possibilities, for the gravity of its subject is undeniable and the history it recounts is haunting given the consequences – in August of 1945 and in the years since.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat