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Theater at Mason The Life of Galileo

By • Apr 4th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
The Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht
Theater at Mason
George Mason University Center for the Arts, Fairfax, VA
Through April 7th
2:30 with one intermission
$20/$15 Students, Faculty, Staff, Seniors
Reviewed March 31st, 2012

The Life of Galileo is a play by Bertolt Brecht and translated by David Edgar from a literal translation by Deborah Gearing. This “based on a true story” play studies the life of Galileo Galilei and his discovery that the earth is not the center of the universe, something which the Catholic Church did not find particularly appealing. Galileo, considered the Father of Astronomy, supposedly recanted his testimony, but later his original works and proofs that the earth revolves around the sun found its way out of Italy and into other parts of Europe.

Galileo was played by Matthew Vaky. Very focused on his work, Galileo was perhaps a bit short on people skills as most brilliant intellectuals tend to be. He and the housekeeper Mrs. Sarti (Bethany Michel) easily traded barbs, but something kept her employed by Galileo for many years. Vaky has a strong presence that made him passionate about his work. Vaky made Galileo likeable and agreeable, just one of the guys who could scheme his way through life and had no patience with the rules. So despite lying about his invention of the telescope, we still liked Galileo. Galileo had a handful of followers who remained by his side throughout his life. Mrs. Sarti’s son Andrea (Garrett Christian and Colin Taylor) was an eager follower of Galileo as well as a thinker in his own right. The two were an inseparable team and got along well. Galileo’s daughter Virginia was played by Brittany Martz. She and Vaky had a strong relationship and seemed to understand each other. Virginia may not have understood the mathematics, but she understood her father’s passion and that was enough. Her prayers in the second act were performed admirably, never overwhelming the scene but still very much a presence in the scene.

Many of the supporting characters were George Mason students who filled multiple roles as ensemble actors, cardinals, and such. The ensemble roles were played well by the students who took their parts quite seriously, although a few struggled with the nuances of playing older roles. There was an odd protest scene in the second act involving a tambourine, a drum, and several posters ultimately making fun of Galileo. With the seriousness of the situation going on between Galileo and the Catholic Church, this scene seemed out-of-place. It was also difficult to hear the talking of the narrator (the lead protestor?) over the drum and the tambourine.

Scenic Designer Dana Maier used a simple setting of Galileo’s study for most of the play. A few times other prop pieces were brought in to represent other parts of Italy, but the focus was always on Galileo and where he was. Often the use of projections during a performance is seen as a distraction, but in this production the projections combined with short pieces of music came across as a positive addition to the action on stage. The projections were either quotes from Galileo’s writings, or short poems to define the coming scene. The lights and sounds were right on cue to make smooth performance. There was even a neat light effect of stars always twinkling and a gobo shining down which seemed to illustrate the sun as the center of a vast universe.

A character driven story on a section of Galileo’s life that was well performed and led the way to a new era and way of thinking.

A Note from the Director

One of the most salient characteristics of the present moment is the tension between faith and reason. For some, this tension escalates to open conflict.; others seek pathways to reconciliation of the terms, or make a claim of false choice. But it seems undeniable that public policy, international relations, and private behaviors all come under the influence of this tension in various forms and to varying degrees.

Galileo made scientific discoveries that opened up the universe in spectacular ways but threatened the stability of institutions both religious and political, since both church and state were heavily invested in the status quo, and saw any challenge to their teachings as a potential point of collapse. Galileo paid a high price for his discoveries — the Inquisition extracted a famous recantation of his principal findings, and his works were officially suppressed for centuries. In Brecht’s play he comes to question his own courage and ethics as a scientist because he capitulated to the authorities and abandoned the truth (and his position of scientific strength) in the face of the threat of torture.

I think the application of these ideas and events of today’s world is far reaching. And, just as importantly, Brecht has created a lively story that pits Galileo’s life in front of us in a robustly theatrical manner. The Life of Galileo represents the mature voice of a master playwright, stocked with characters full of human foibles and passions. It is decidedly less “Brechtian” — in the traditionally understood (and perhaps oversimplified) sense of that term — than some of his well-known works, especially those from earlier in his career. But we do find many of his signature techniques on view, including the epic/episodic structure, the use of scene-setting texts (here seen a projections), and occasional eruption of direct address to the audience, an entire scene (the Marketplace or Carnival) that contributes nothing to the plot but helps advance Brecht’s technique of “verfremdungseffekt” (alienation or estrangement), and most of all, the vigorous, even relentless dialectical struggle between the old order and the new, the traditional teachings and new evidence, belief and doubt, faith and reason.

Rick Davis, Director

Photo Gallery

Matthew Vaky as 'Galileo' and Garrett Christian as 'Young Andrea' Matthew Vaky as 'Galileo' and David Johnson as 'The Little Monk'
Matthew Vaky as ‘Galileo’ and Garrett Christian as ‘Young Andrea’
Matthew Vaky as ‘Galileo’ and David Johnson as ‘The Little Monk’
Alec Henneberger as 'Federzoni,' Colin Taylor as 'Andrea' (Back), David Johnson as 'The Little Monk' (Front) and Matthew Vaky as 'Galileo' Brittany Martz as 'Virginia,' Bethany Michel as 'Mrs. Sarti,' Alec Henneberger as 'Federzoni,' Colin Taylor as 'Andrea,' David Johnson as 'The Little Monk' and Matthew Vaky as 'Galileo'
Alec Henneberger as ‘Federzoni,’ Colin Taylor as ‘Andrea’ (Back), David Johnson as ‘The Little Monk’ (Front) and Matthew Vaky as ‘Galileo’
Brittany Martz as ‘Virginia,’ Bethany Michel as ‘Mrs. Sarti,’ Alec Henneberger as ‘Federzoni,’ Colin Taylor as ‘Andrea,’ David Johnson as ‘The Little Monk’ and Matthew Vaky as ‘Galileo’
Matthew Vaky as 'Galileo,' Colin Taylor as 'Andrea,' Bethany Michel as 'Mrs. Sarti' and Brandon Herlig as 'Ludovico'
Matthew Vaky as ‘Galileo,’ Colin Taylor as ‘Andrea,’ Bethany Michel as ‘Mrs. Sarti’ and Brandon Herlig as ‘Ludovico’

Photos provided by Theater at Mason

Cast

  • Galileo: Matthew Vaky
  • Young Andrea: Garrett Christian
  • Mrs. Sarti: Bethany Michel
  • Ludovico: Brandon Herlig
  • Provost/Ensemble: Zack Wilcox
  • Virginia: Brittany Martz
  • Sagredo/Vanni: Bryan Thren
  • A Senator/Ensemble: Ruthie Rado
  • Federzoni: Alec Henneberger
  • Young Cosimo: Michael Rosegrant
  • Lady in Waiting/Ensemble: Alex Giller
  • Chamberlain/Ensemble: Jonathon Wong
  • Theologian/Ensemble: Braydyn Heck
  • Philosopher/Ensemble: Rebecca Wahls
  • Mathematician/Ensemble: Halah Zenhom
  • Prelate/Ensemble: Shaila Richmond
  • Old Cardinal/Ensemble: Casey Bauer
  • Cardinal Inquisitor: Dylan Hares
  • Barberini: Richard Chancellor
  • Bellarmin/A Senator/Ensemble: Eric Schlein
  • Little Monk: David Johnson
  • Andrea: Colin Taylor
  • Cosimo the Elder/A Senator/Ensemble: John Park

For this Production

  • Producer: Kevin Murray
  • Production Manager: Clayton Austin
  • Assistant Production Manager: Charlote Bates
  • Movement: Ken Elston
  • Assistant Director: Sachin Jain
  • Assistant Stage Managers: Cody Clarke, Gabby Lavoie
  • Assistant Dramturg: Janey Robideau
  • Assistant Set Designer: April Brassard
  • Assistant Costume Designer: Kyna Hollis
  • Assistant Lighting Designer: Baron Pugh
  • Associate Properties Designer: Jocelyn Steiner
  • Assistant Properties Designers: Juliet Brech, Janey Robideau
  • Assistant Sound Designer: Martin Bonica
  • Wardrobe Crew: Sarah MacKay, Shawn Barron
  • Make-up and Hair: Cathryn Benson
  • Scenic Charge: Katie Brunberg
  • Master Electrician: Adrianna Daugherty Smith
  • Light Board Operator: Katie Brunberg
  • Sound Board Operator: Samantha Smith
  • Projections Operator: Stephanie Cohen
  • Deck Crew: Nerissa Hart, Emily Gruver
  • Publicity: Mason O’Sullivan
  • Program Cover Design: Kristen Jett
  • Poster Design: Nerissa Monton
  • Director: Rick Davis
  • Scenic Designer: Dana Maier
  • Costume Designer: Ivania Stack
  • Lighting Designer: Liz Replogle
  • Sound Designer: Kevin Dunayaer
  • Properties: Suzanne Maloney
  • Dramaturg: Suzanne Maloney
  • Stage Manager: Sarah Morrissey

Disclaimer: Theater at Mason provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

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