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LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
by Les Gutman
To a non-scientist (and I readily include myself in that category), the great mysteries of the universe seem unpenetrable. I know, for instance, that Einstein was the great genius of the 20th Century, but I have only the vaguest idea what it is he discovered, and even less understanding of how he did it.
Over the last few theater seasons, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of plays that have dealt with matters scientific. (So many so that I won't bother to catalogue them here). Fanatics is the second play this season to deal with the life and work of Galileo. (The first, Star Messengers, is linked below.) With four centuries of perspective and two plays under my belt, I am beginning to appreciate the monumentality of Galileo's work, and how he went about it. I'm also starting to realize why these improbable subjects are so compelling to play-makers.
At its heights, it seems, science is not all that far from art. Galileo, in particular, harbored an imagination that could be described as artistic expression, and art seemed to inhabit one pole of his world (the other, pervasive in this production, was religion). Thus, it is a natural progression that theater artists, like the folks at Ellen Beckerman & Company (aka EB&C), should find such subject matter intriguing.
And Beckerman's work is nothing if not artistic.
This is the first time this company has ventured out from the security net of a classic theatrical text. Instead of applying its now-signature style to an existing script, in Fanatics, it uses disparate raw material drawn from the writings of Galileo and his contemporaries, the transcripts of his inquisition as well as biblical sources. While in its more derivative productions I have been impressed with how well EB&C's work informs the underlying text, the result here is less satisfying. The essence of Galileo is more sketched than painted; the focus conveys an ill-weighted infatuation with his run-ins with the Catholic Church rather than the dangerous excitement engendered by his inventions and discoveries. To the latter, Beckerman's unique form of communication would have been more worthily employed.
This is not to say that there is not much to admire here. The ensemble cast of five company members performs exceptionally well, both in unison and in counterpoint -- each at times portraying the central character and others. There is a refinement to the movement and use of language that demonstrates the time-consuming attention to detail which marks this company's productions, and makes it interesting to watch even when it is not at its most effective. There are some stunning visual moments in Fanatics (aided by Michael O'Connor's lighting), and much of the production has a balletic sensibility that exceeds that we've seen from the group before. At times, the cast forms a crowd; at others, it coalesces into a singular organism -- five actors beautifully employed to flesh out the multi-facets of a remarkable man.
LINKS TO SHOWS MENTIONED ABOVE AND OTHERS BY EB&C