The great promises that come with a Classic Stage Company production of Bertolt Brecht's Galileo starring F. Murray Abraham are all fulfilled and exceeded. A phenomenal cast lead by a very capable director combines with an inspired production design and the irascible and biting words of Brecht to make a level of production which one often hopes for but so seldom gets. This is theater at its best.
F. Murray Abraham is truly a national treasure of the American theater. Making it all look so effortless, Abraham eases into the title role with relaxed deliveries, a quiet energy that burns with the intense inner fire of discovery, and subtle gestures that regularly strike upon incidental comic notes. His presence is commanding and his interaction with his fellow actors thoroughly human and natural. He is one of those few actors in possession of an Academy Award who is also undeniably a man to the stage born, and we can consider ourselves blessed for his continued appearances thereon.
Steven Rattazzi plays a collage of characters, all of unique and entertaining qualities; Nick Westrate portrays a well-manicured young man of means, smart enough to know his scholastic deficiencies but too stubborn to see past his own business interests; and Robert Dorfman offers up a firm and staunchly conflicted Cardinal Barberini. There is not a weak performance in this cast; all are worthy of praise, making the production a true ensemble effort orbiting collectively around the story of a would-be early intellectual revolution for mankind that was derailed for the sake of the antiquated.
Director Brian Kulick manages beautifully, conducting the course of these moving bodies with a fluidity fitting to the piece. Kulick creates a sense of motion, his staging punctuated by multiple choreographed moments with the slamming down of chairs, hinting at the inevitable collision that looms ominously throughout the piece. The austere beauty of a dance sequence in Act I, choreographed by Tony Speciale, complements this established theme and theatrical device of putting bodies in motion. Adrianne Lobel's set design beautifully notes the endless potential radiating from Galileo's discoveries, while Oana Botez-Ban's costume design rightly holds the characters to their particularly moment in history. The production design is collectively masterful.
Brecht, always the consummate playwright and selectively accurate historian, artfully uses the story of Galileo to make his points more than he uses the play to create a credible biography of his subject. Contrary to some of his dialog in the play, Galileo was a devoutly religious man. There are some other discrepancies, but the material outshines any inexactness, provided it is watched as fiction, not all fact. CSC has chosen to use the Charles Laughton translation of Galileo, which Brecht himself collaborated on in 1947, making it the version that most closely realizes the author's desired presentation to English speaking audiences. Opportunities to see theater of this rich quality are precious, and anyone complaining about the prolific quantity of theatrical counterfeit which is so commonly tendered should take advantage of this rare prospect to get a good look at the real thing. - C. Jefferson Thom
Photo by Joan Marcus
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.