Sunday, March 15, 2009


I was asked to comment for an obituary at the Wall Street Journal for Ed Grothus, who passed away while I was on Tanna and out of touch.

I wrote a letter in the Melbourne airport about Ed and sent it off to the journalist, but they chose to use a brief quote from my monologue about the Black Hole.

I think Ed would have been fine with that—he saw the show and thought it was hilarious—but I wanted to publish my full letter to the WSJ, since none of it made it into the piece and I feel like they sold Ed short in terms of his reach, his ambitions, and his humanity.

Here's the letter:



I'm delighted you wrote me--I was lucky enough to meet Ed and spend time with him last year while working on my monologue IF YOU SEE SOMETHING SAY SOMETHING, which is in part about the rise of the military/industrial complex post-WWII and the nuclear industry.

Ed was fantastic--sharp as a tack, even as his body was clearly slowing him down, you could feel an intense engagement in him, and his emails would be wide and expansive. We wrote quite a bit--he was a good correspondent, and his kindness is really what impressed me--he was an activist, but his heart was tremendously open, and if you spend your life fighting for something that much of the world assumes is a necessary evil, it's easy to become embittered.

Ed didn't turn that way, and I found it inspiring. He was also humble, and always aware of his complicity by having worked in the weapons groups making bombs--he never forgot those origins, and how easy it had been for him, and I think for all of us, to do evil under the guise of simply doing our job.

My monologues are autobiographical, and woven from multiple storylines together. Ed appears in the piece as himself, at my first meeting with him, and I describe his life and the way he gives tours. It was a moment I'll never forget when he came to see the show, and having him stand up in the audience at the end of the performance.

He was a bundle of contradictions, and his sparkling humor and ability to laugh at himself and the world was awesome to see welded to the kind of hands-on, demonstrative work he did. He made an extraordinary choice to remain in Los Alamos, reminding that community of what it had done and continues to do, a local reflection of a national conversation about what we're willing to tolerate in the name of safety.

One anecdote: Ed would drift through the Black Hole, tinkering and puttering with true love about the most amazing piles of research and military hardware stacked up to the edge of heaven. He had this knack for materializing out of nowhere, silently, and then exclaiming in an incredibly loud voice brought on by deafness, "WELCOME TO THE BLACK HOLE!" I don't "play" people on stage, as I tell stories, but I demonstrate in the show how loud he is and do a passing shocks audiences.

Ed loved this part when he saw it--though I know the show spoke to many of his concerns as well, he was also a showman, and a ham, and a P.T. Barnum of the nuclear age. In an age when we seem to forget how effective magic can be he understood the need to make a cause into a human story, with comedy, panache and a heartfelt yearning to connect--and his dark shop of wonders did that so well. He was an original.

Thanks for reaching out,