BWW Review: PlayMakers' Heavenly Production of LIFE OF GALILEO is One for the Ages
Between January 2018 and August 2018, the federal government attempted to censor, misrepresent, and otherwise silence science over 150 times. That's according to the Silencing Science Tracker (SST) launched by Columbia University's Sabin Center and the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. While most of the 150 plus SST entries involved attempts to stifle climate science, 24-percent of the entries targeted scientists working in other fields.
But the government assault on science is nothing new. In fact, nearly 400 years ago, Galileo Galilei was forced to recant some of his scientific views after the church found him guilty of heresy. Subsequently, his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was placed on the "Index of Forbidden Books" by the Sacred Congregation of the Roman Inquisition, and he was placed on house arrest.
Galileo's life is the subject of Bertolt Brecht's 1938 play LIFE OF GALILEO, which explores the ups and downs of going from being a celebrated scientist to a convicted dissident. More importantly, the play provides a 'big brother' commentary on humanity and the delusion of blind faith in an era of alternative facts.
Capturing the rich undercurrents of Brecht's classic play for a contemporary audience may be a daunting task, but one which PlayMakers' Producing Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch tackles faultlessly. Here, donning her director's hat, Benesch has woven together a stellar cast along with some stunning visuals to create a staged masterpiece that is truly one for the ages.
Making his PlayMakers' debut, Ron Menzel gives a no-holds-barred, lionhearted performance as Galileo. He devours this character with the intensity of a mad scientist, the resolve of a teacher, and the antipathy of a castaway. Alex Givens also gives a fervent performance as Galileo's eager student, Andrea Sarti, and an electrifying Tristan Parks, who plays multiple roles, nearly stops the show with his portrayal of the Ballad Singer in the second act.
Inspired by Svalbard's Global Seed Vault, Set and Screen Designer Jim Findlay has created a strangely metaphorical yet surreal hi-tech bunker in which Galileo and company live and work. The juxtaposition of the sterile, mod white environs and period-appropriate props like Galileo's armillary sphere and 'tube,' tellingly work to contemporize Brecht's piece. In addition, Findlay's ever-effective screen projections, sometimes ethereal, sometimes confrontational, and very Brechtian, enhance Benesch's Orwellian interpretation of the work.
Brecht's play doesn't offer any definitive answers to the current problems facing champions of climate and environmental science, but rather leaves the audience with more troubling questions and perhaps a glimmer of hope that someday stupidity may be defeated, and reason will prevail.
LIFE OF GALILEO runs through March 17th at PlayMakers. For more information visit: http://playmakersrep.org/.
Photo by Huth Photo.