In the midst of the unbearable heat wave in New York, I found myself at the Lincoln Center Campus for Ian R. Crawford’s adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galileo. Stepping into the intimate theatre furnished with a rotating circular stage and a small harpsichord along the right wall, I was in for a brief historical journey through the tumultuous late life of one of science’s brightest minds.
The production opens with a musical number straight from the depths of vaudeville. It sets the stage for our introduction to Galileo Galilei, played memorably by Micah Bucey. Our main character, a professor of Mathematics at the University of Padua, is quickly running out of money. Upon hearing that there is a tube that can magnify objects when observed through one end, Galileo sets out to reproduce it with the help of his loyal pupil and assistant, Andrea. Perhaps one of his most famous inventions, the telescope allows Galileo to gaze at the moon, discover satellites around Jupiter, observe sunspots, and quite controversially, prove the Copernican system, a model which places the sun at the center of the cosmos.
This observable fact is the basis for the rest of the production, bringing the issues of religion and science to the forefront. During Galileo’s time, the church firmly believed that the earth, the birthplace of the Son of God, was the center of the universe and any documentation or text stating otherwise would be viewed as an act of heresy.
The play obviously does not end tied neatly with a pretty bow. We see a nearly blind man close to the end of his life under house arrest, forever regretting the personal renouncement of his life’s work to avoid the physical pain of torture by the church. It is a story of a man stripped of his pride by forces larger than himself, by powers that feared him more than he feared them.
Portrayed by a magical cast of Fordham Theatre graduates, most notably Tommy Heleringer as Mr. Priuli and the Little Monk, and Jared McNeill as Andrea, Life of Galileo is both visually stunning with its use of two-dimensional puppets meant to represent three important figureheads of Italy, well-crafted costumes, and graphic imagery, as well as emotionally captivating, ranging from humor and devastation, to the feeling of great hopelessness and loss of faith. It is a work that leaves one to question: which is more commendable, sacrifice of self or sacrifice of art?
Photos by Gerry Goodstein:
1. R.J. Foster, Micah Bucey, Jake Loewenthal, Graham Burk
3. Meg McCrossen
4. Jared McNeill, Micah Bucey
Life of Galileo
Fordham Alumni Theatre Company
Veronica Lally Kehoe Studio Theatre
Lincoln Center Campus
Through July 31, 2011