In the Wings: QED Star Peter DeLaurier

The Barrymore winner on campaigning for JFK, finding community in Philly, and playing Richard Feynman eight years later.


Peter DeLaurier as Richard Feynman in QED. | Photo by Mark Garvin.

Storied presence on the Philadelphia theater scene Peter DeLaurier is currently playing American theoretical physicist and Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman in Lantern Theater Company‘s production of QED.

My name … is Peter DeLaurier.

I am … an actor. I’m also a director, playwright, teacher, theatre founder, director and producer. I’m a father, widower, friend, carpenter, plumber, plasterer, painter, auto mechanic, soccer ref, Quaker, Buddhist runner.

I grew up … in Kansas City, Missouri and spent five seasons with Missouri Repertory Theatre—at the time that it was one of the very few resident professional theaters in the U.S.—before moving to NYC.

On opening day … we didn’t rehearse, so I finally got my nasty house cleaned. Then I called up my director, Craig Getting, and arranged to meet him an hour before curtain to completely rework the opening beat of the show. The change was excellent and made a big difference to me in getting the show off and running. (Also, I wore my brand-new glow-in-the-dark boxer-briefs I bought because they were on sale, not because they glowed.)

My favorite part of QED … is when Clare Mahoney shows up as Miriam Field just as Feynman has reached the bottom of his despair.

To get into character as Richard Feynman, I … spend some time imagining him into the center of his circumstances: having accomplished much, but with a feeling that there is still so much to do and knowing that he is in the middle of the recurrence of a life-threatening disease, but feeling very strong and full of energy and purpose as the play begins.

I’m like my character because … A mind like Feynman’s comes along (in a situation in which it can reach its full potential) only a few times a millennium, so it’s hard to draw similarities. It’s daunting, but a great deal of fun to play someone this smart.

Since playing Feynman in Lantern’s first production of QED in 2006, I … lost my wife. In the last iteration of this production, I had to imagine all the very important sections that dealt with his loss of his beloved first wife. That was a lot of work during my period of trying so very hard to keep mine alive. Those sections just play themselves now. I get on and ride. [Editor’s note: DeLaurier’s late wife, actress Ceal Phelan, lost her battle with cancer last year.]


Clare Mahoney as Miriam Field and Peter DeLaurier as Richard Feynman in QED. | Photo by Mark Garvin.

Over the last eight years I’ve … done a lot of work. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve gotten almost old enough to understand Dick Feynman’s sense of mortality, which I could only guess at eight years ago. I’ve gone through a lot of changes in my life. But I think I have to subscribe to the unattributed statement I heard years ago that we just become more ourselves as we get older. I think I was always a good prospect to play Feynman, and I’ve just become a better one over these years.

If I were to win a Nobel Prize, it would be for … maybe for keeping Ceal alive for 11 years?

The first professional production I was in was … Oedipus Rex at Missouri Repertory Theatre. I was 17 and in the chorus. It was directed by Alexis Minotis who had just been fired as the artistic director of the Greek National Theatre. A couple years before he came to direct that play with us, a letter to the editor in the London Times chided a critic for saying that Laurence Olivier was clearly the best living actor: “You clearly have not seen the work onstage of Alexis Minotis.”

My surprising celebrity crush is … it would not surprise those who know me well to hear that I’ve been in love with Emmylou Harris since 1975.

The most famous person I’ve ever met was … I shook Robert Kennedy’s hand. I’ve worked all my life as a Democratic activist. My first campaign was JFK’s in 1960. Ceal and I were in grad school in 1973 at Illinois State University when most of the founders of Steppenwolf arrived as recruited freshmen.

The best show I saw in Philly recently … Arcadia at the Lantern and Caught at Interact.

The craziest thing I’ve ever had to do for a Philly theater performance was … In Fool for Love, I had to grab a rope off a table in half a second, swing it once around my head, throw it to rope Elizabeth Meeker around the middle as she ran away from me and pull her tight so that we each landed in a very tight down spot at the far ends of the stage.

The best thing about Philadelphia’s theater scene is … the sense of community. I grew up in company. At Missouri Repertory Theatre we were 25 union actors and about 40-50 interns and apprentices all working tightly together over many years on 6-show rotating repertory. Ceal and I always tried to find that sense of community again. The theatre community of Philadelphia increasingly feels like such a company.

QED plays at Lantern Theater Company through Sunday, December 14th. More information and tickets can be found here.