Friday, September 23, 2011

The Life of Galileo

CPH inaugurates its new home with an intriguing look at Galileo

Cleveland Play House is basically all new. It has a new name--no The in its title-- and is housed in a marvelous new facility that blends the traditions of great opulent, old-age architecture with new age modernism.

First to the facility. The Allen Theatre was built to be a movie house. No theatrical trappings were included. It was a long skinny theatre. No attention was given to sight lines, backstage or wing space, or a fly gallery for scenery or set pieces. It was beautiful, but anyone who saw a theatrical production in the space quickly became aware that the acoustics, the ability to clearly see the stage from the hinterlands of the very deep seating areas, were lacking. All that has been changed.

The new Allen is everything that the old Allen wasn’t, except for its initial beauty and the adjustments that have been made to transform the space into a warm, audience friendly contemporary theatre. And, to make things even better, shortly, there will be two more theatres added. This will give CPH something it has never had…flexible spaces that will allow for the selection of a broad range of plays which can be performed in an intimate proscenium, and a flexible black box which can be configured to the needs and wants of the director. Yes, theatre in the round, thrust theatre or any configuration needed. The audiences will be close to the action, the lighting and other theatrical necessities will be top notch and the newest in design. It’s a new beginning for America's first professional regional theatre.

CPH opens its inaugural season in downtown with a compelling production of THE LIFE OF GALILEO. Director Michael Donald Edwards pulled out all the stops to show off the new space. Actors rise off the floor thanks to the rigging system, the stage is displayed in its nude and set adorned modes, projections enhance the visual effect, the closeness of the audience to the stage is used as a device to get the viewers emotionally involved.

THE Life of Galileo, also known as Galileo, is a play by the twentieth-century German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. The play went through various versions from its 1937 beginning to its 1955 rebirth. The latter version became necessary in Brecht’s mind because of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, which, according to him, “transferred the positive aspects of science to became a study that was irrational and harmful.”

The story focuses on Galileo, known by many as the father of modern science. Galileo, who is short on cash, adapts “a queer tube thing,” which is being sold on the streets of Amsterdam, into a scientific tool which allows for viewing the stars. Of course, delving into the sciences is dangerous in any country under the control of the Catholic church. Copernicus attempted to explain the solar system in non-God centered ways and wound up being martyred. But, undeterred, Galileo goes forth. When challenged, he stands his ground, but eventually sells out to the church, much to the dismay of his loyal followers. Apparently old and broken, Galileo defies the church and gives one of his former students Two New Sciences, a volume containing his newest discoveries. The book is smuggled out of Italy, and into Lutheran Germany, and becomes the basis for a new age of science.

Though the script is long (about two and a quarter hours) and consists more of talk than action, the CPH production is excellent. The special effects add to audience interest. The high quality of the performances adds to the success.

Paul Whitworth makes for a fine Galileo. He develops a clear and believable character. He wraps himself in the personage of the person who was one of the world’s great thinkers. He elicits both humor and pathos.

Youthful Aric Generette Floyd is delightful and real as Andrea Sarti, a boy who becomes a faithful follower of the great man. Interestingly, he is far more proficient than Sheldon Best, who plays the role as a grown man.

Myra Lucretia Taylor is spot on as Andrea’s mother and Galileo’s trusted servant.

It is nice to see that CPH is using local talents in their new home, including Charles Kartali, Jeffrey Grover, Robert Ellis, Aric Generette Floyd, Eva Gil, Bob Goddard, Andrew Gorell, Dan Hendrock, Michael Herbert, Jeremy Kendall, Kim Krane, Christian Prentice, Jonathan Ramos, Kelli Ruttle, Yan Tual, and Thomas Weil.

Pandora Robertson has done an excellent job of adding both dance and creative movement into the production.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: THE LIFE OF GALILEO, a thought-provoking probe into the life of one of the world’s great scientists, gets a well developed, focused, creative, often funny production at CPH. It’s a fine opener for the inauguration of a wonderful new chapter in the theatre’s history.