BWW Review: GALILEO Worth Seeing at The Burbage Theatre Co.
The first time I saw GALILEO by Bertolt Brecht performed was thirty-five years ago at Trinity Rep. I remembered being blown away by the experience-the late great Richard Kneeland played the title role and Brecht's play put the conflict between science and dogma right on the table. I remember loving the idea that one person can be right and the rest of the world wrong. So now the Burbage Theatre Company in Providence is offering GALILEO directed by Vincent Petronio and I was curious to see if they could measure up and if the play held up.
GALILEO is about the clash between scientific investigation and religious orthodoxy. When we meet Galileo (Richard Noble), he's an eminent professor and scientist in the 17th century Venetian Republic and short of money. A prospective student, Ludovico (Dillon Medina) tells him about a novel invention, the telescope ("a queer tube thing") that is being sold in Amsterdam. Galileo replicates it, and offers it to the Republic as his own creation. He gains an increase in his salary, but within a short time his ruse is discovered. O well. But Galileo then uses the telescope for careful observations of the Moon and the planets and discovers the moons orbiting Jupiter. His observations strongly support Copernicus's theory of our solar system, which is counter to the doctrine of the powerful Catholic Church. Galileo's daughter's (Andrea Reid) engagement to Ludovico (with whom she is genuinely in love) is broken because of Galileo's reluctance to distance himself from his unorthodox teachings. The Inquisitor (Aaron Morris) then brings Galileo to the Vatican in Rome for interrogation. Threatened with torture, he recants his teachings. In the closing scene, Galileo, old and broken and living under house arrest with a priest monitoring his activities, is visited by one of his former pupils. The old man gives him a book containing all his scientific discoveries, asking him to smuggle it out of Italy for dissemination abroad.
The play holds up remarkably well. Was there ever a time when science and religion were more at odds than our own? A central theme in this work is the unwillingness of clerical authorities to even look at evidence, what can be seen through the telescope, because they already know what they will see and thus have no need to investigate further. It's enough to drive you crazy. Brecht wrote his play in 1938 in Germany-a time and place that tragically upheld orthodoxy and stymied investigation. In that regard, this play is still positively chilling and current.
So how's this production? In some ways, the intimate venue at the Aurora
(two rows of chairs surround the performance space) makes for a more intense experience than one gets in a larger theater such as Trinity; we can feel Galileo's frustration and pain. Richard Noble in the title role is on stage the entire ninety minutes. Aside from needing a line fed to him in the early going, Nobel was on the mark. It's a large cast (eleven actors) for a small theater and was a little uneven. Emma Sacchetti as a monk and a court philosopher was spot on; Dillon Medina, in spite of being a friend of mine, was positively a jerk as Galileo's so superior son-in-law-not-to-be, but Aaron Morris's Inquisitor could have been more menacing.
The most interesting feature of the set was the map of the solar system on which the actors trod-all the worlds were a stage.
GALILEO by Bertolt Brecht runs Fridays at 7:00 and Sundays at 6:00 until September 16 at 276 Westminster St., Providence (the Aurora, a lovely bar). Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for students and seniors, and $10 for Rhode Island College students. The box office can be reached at 401 484 0355 or at www.burbagethetre.org. The venue is completely accessible. If you remember Trinity's production, you probably qualify for the senior discount.