by Carole Di Tosti
In the past girls were warned off taking Physics because it was assumed they weren’t exceptional in math and couldn’t compete with their male counterparts. Thankfully, such oppressive stereotypes have been obliterated and judging from the smiles on the girls’ faces in the audience, more than a few future women scientists were engendered by Dave Maiullo’s fascinating show. He is the demonstrator extraordinaire who created and is the star of That Physics Show, currently making its home Off Broadway at The Elektra Theatre.
Aptly assisted by Jordan Bunshaft and Kelsey Lane Dies, Maiullo applies a completely interactive approach to his subject. Initially, he elicits answers to his questions from audience members as a means to engage them in the heady process of understanding the various laws that govern our lives and the physical world around us. By way of easy explanation, Maiullo introduces our known world, illustrating the three laws of motion. He demonstrates the fundamentals of each with commonplace objects, for example a roll of toilet paper, a tennis ball, a bowling ball, string, a wine glass, balloons, a bike wheel and weights.
Maiullo’s comfort with his subject matter removes the intimidation factor. We discover we are learning because of his joy, humor and passion. As he entertains us, we take in his explanations and appreciate how his scientific props dance to his guided, controlling hands. Maiullo’s gifts are prodigious. He is able to walk us through great complexity and reinterpret it so that it is manifest and clear. His demonstrations are well thought out and prepared. He is able to execute them with facility and ease.
Friction, circular motion, inertia, velocity and force all become concepts readily accessible; Maiullo’s enthusiasm moves the show at a clip. We are ready for increasingly complicated rounds unmasking other aspects of Physics. For example, he examines procession, angular momentum and double energy systems. The latter exemplifies uncertainty; weather is a double energy system and, as with all such systems, it is impossible to predict exact outcomes. The point is drawn clearly with the double pendulum or chaos pendulum, the intriguing device that Maiullo releases to swing its chaotic motion that cannot be plotted. With humor Maiullo reaffirms another theme of the show. Such aspects of Physics are integral to our lives and this is something to enjoy.
The production’s staging and lighting are conducive to enhancing the demonstrations. Maiullo’s props are impressive. They mysteriously sit on tables with gravitas, until Maiullo or his assistants use them and then they disappear. We are too busy watching Maiullo’s next riff to notice what happens to them. What Maiullo does is not magic. It is his operational understanding of the knowledge of the properties of the physical laws of motion. If this appears to be magic, it is because our very world and what governs it is, indeed, magical. And if there is one idea that this show underscores, it is that our world is so incredibly fascinating, we have only to discern it with new eyes.
This production is Maiullo’s gift of physics to us. In his hands and interpretative demonstrations we gain a new appreciation of our “reality,” which can be jaw dropping. For example in one segment, Maiullo illustrates the dramatic effects of liquid nitrogen (nitrogen is cooled to an extremely low temperature changing it into a liquid) on a banana, a hot dog, his arm (no it does not fall off or break) and a balloon filled with helium. The result stretches our imaginations. He differentiates helium from hydrogen with a bit of flame, producing a brilliant explosion (hydrogen is spectacularly flammable). He reaffirms that helium is so light that earth’s gravity cannot hold it and it is why balloons filled with helium, if not stopped, will fly into space.
Throughout, Maiullo drops in bits and pieces of information that are vital, trending topics. He is open, candid, self-effacing and congenial. He is an absolutely refreshing scientist, possessing and sharing a thousand teachable moments. What a pleasure!
That Physics Show should not be missed. It is 90 minutes without an intermission and you can see it at The Elektra Theatre (300 West 43rd Street) until May 1. Tickets may be purchased by phone at OvationTix customer service toll-free at 866-811-4111 or online at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/953874
*Photos: Donnell Culver