BWW Review: ISAAC'S EYE Enthralls Audiences at TAP with Science and Sensuality
On any given Sunday afternoon or weekday evening, Third Avenue Playhouse (TAP) presents enthralling theatrical happenings that make audiences crave indoor (and air conditioned) time and space, that relates to the Newtonian.This July, Sturgeon Bay's year round performing arts center presents a fairly new and contemporary play titled Isaac's Eye that subtly asks the question: "Would you rather be famous for centuries and die alone or have someone who loved you say "I'm happy that you lived?" by delving into the life of Sir Isaac Newton.
That is only one question posited by up and coming playwright Lucas Hnath in his provocative script about the young life of Newton, one of history's preeminent mathematicians, physicists and scientists. While Newton lived from 1643-1727, Hnath stages the story in casual, contemporary costumes with the characters using modern language to make history breathe and the story universally human.. Tucked in the intimate Third Street theater, his four players come alive using merely four chairs in each stage corner and a huge blackboard as the backdrop.
A character and narrator named Anything Man, the magnetic Dan Klarer, speaks to the audience to break the fourth wall and also gives voice to Sam, a character dying from the plague who was used for one of Newton's experiments...(another controversial subject to be considered, even if a man is already dying). Throughout the play, Anything Man writes on the blackboard in evocative script what the play reveals as truth about Newton's life, which then essentially delineates what happens on stage related as fiction in the dialogue.
In this marvelous production, a former Milwaukee Rep Emerging Resident Jared Davis gives the 25 year old Newton a believable, socially borderline persona perhaps true to what can be determined about the scientific genius before he became famous-a great approximation of what genius often looks like, as no one knows for certain how Newton acted except for the actual known facts written on the blackboard in Hnath's play. A man determined to succeed, sometimes at any cost, Newton believed he was an instrument of God, and could see things about the universe that other men were unable to do. At the time of the play, Newton attempts to enter the Royal Society, an elite group of English scientists (an organization he eventually ruled as their President), by meeting with Robert Hooke, an acclaimed scientist who already claimed membership.
Veteran actor and 2016 TAP Artist-in-Residence Drew Brhel embodies Newton's professional adversary, a scientist cluttered with his own particular foibles, Robert Hooke, with cunning and cleverness. While Hooke did similar work to Newton, and was already accepted by the Royal Society, the two men never appreciated one another and competed, often working in the same field. While Hooke (Hooke's Law) accomplished multiple significant scientific endeavors, Newton's light eventually shone brighter and further into the future, to be remembered with awe.
Add into this masculine mix Kay Allmand, who acts as Newton's neighbor, a woman named Catherine Storer. Her wise and worldly character offers a fictional, interesting and yet plausible love triangle to the story, again begging the question of personal values: celebrity status and career versus companionship, family and marriage, two quandaries both Newton and Hooke struggled with. Storer actually existed in Newton's life, and his writings, scientific notations, were found in her home on the attic walls, although their true relationship remains unknown.
In this fascinating and thought provoking production, Director Robert Boles allows the competitive tension between these charismatic personalities to shimmer like color shining through one of Newton's prisms, while illuminating the scientific facts and the dramatic fiction in the story--a captivating paradox of science and sensuality, that especially comes to a climax in the second act. The production considers so many questions without answers about what constitutes genius and what might be acceptable to do in achieving genius. And exactly what does the title Isaac's Eye refer to in this production? As a hint, Newton somehow once stuck a needle in his eye, true fact, and how far better to see the play and discover why and for what reason.
Even with the lush, natural beauty available throughout Door County on a vacation or any summer day, this great little theater houses memorable moments and keeps audiences returning for more. The compelling Isaac's Eye represents only one TAP selection this season, with James Valcq's adaptation of a vintage comic musical Madame Sherry and the award winning The Gin Game on the summer schedule ahead. Each show features the masterful talents of Drew Brhel, along with their distinguished company members including Boles, Valcq, Ryan PatRick Shaw, Amy Ensign, and an eclectic troupe of actors from around the Midwest they inevitably invite to grace their stage. Do walk through TAP's doors on any Door County day--regardless of the weather---and then walk out continually amazed at what this innovative and inventive theater offers to the human heart, mind and spirit.
Third Avenue Playhouse presents Isaac's Eyes at 239 North 3rd Avenue, Sturgeon Bay through July 23. For information regarding special events performance schedule or tickets, please call: 920.743,1760 or thirdavenueplayhouse.com.