(Review by Tulis McCall)
When first you enter the theatre and see Adrianne Lobel’s set that is spare and dynamic, and beautifully lit by Justin Townsend, your first thought is, “I hope the play is as good as the set.” The story is. Galileo took science and religion and turned them upside down. He was rewarded by the threat of torture, in the face of which he recanted, and several years of house arrest. He was the Aung San Suu Kyi of 17th century Italy. In addition this play is a collaboration between two icons of theatre, Bertolt Brecht and Charles Laughton. And then of course there is a talented cast lead by F. Murray Abraham. It is another one of those theatrical mysteries where the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
The script, where it all starts, is surprisingly bland. With all these elements involved it almost feels as though it would like to explode but is never given the chance. The most effective scenes are those in which Galileo is explaining his new discoveries. How to prove that the earth revolves around the sun? How to take a small telescope, which he did not invent, and turn it into an instrument to point at the heavens. How to explain moons around Jupiter coming and going? How to prove that the moon has mountains and the sun has spots. And how to do all of this in the face of church dogma that forbade such inquiry.
Science and religion have been like a two-headed snake trying to bite its own tail. Look around. Contraception is still a subject for public debate because of Catholic teachings, and Christianity is the preferred religion for American politicians. If nothing else this play reminds us that we are not so very evolved as we would like to think.
SAGREDO What do you think is going to happen to you for saying that there is another sun around which other earths revolve? And that there are only stars and no difference between earth and heaven? Where is God then?
GALILEO What do you mean?
SAGREDO God? Where is God?
GALILEO (angrily) Not there! Any more than he'd be here-if creatures from the moon came down to look for him!
SAGREDO Then where is He?
And there you have it. Galileo believed in the mystery of science, and the more he uncovered, the more wonder he felt. God was not locatable. Ours is not a universe to be bound into the Creation Story. What Galileo proved to himself was that Infinity was the name of the game. Macrocosm to microcosm. We live in a Hall of Mirrors. He dismantled the scaffolding of the Church, and the Church fought back like a cornered dinosaur. And it hasn’t stopped.
This is a more than worthy cast, and as time passes they may figure out how to pack some oomph into the gas tank of this jalopy. I hope so, because this is a story worth hearing. Galileo is a play that will make you think long and deep about the adventure of inquiry and the sad futility of inquisition. When Church or State put a lid on debate, they don’t kill thought or free will. They just postpone the change that threatens their sovereignty. Sooner or later, it is always mystery that seduces the thinking person into observing, and once that happens, all bets are off.
PS: The Pope finally acknowledged that Galileo was right. That was in 1992. Some decisions just take longer than others, I guess.
"Lucid if pallid revival."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"It’s packed with challenging ideas but punches like a kitten wearing boxing gloves." Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Needs a strong central performance to make it work. Unfortunately, F. Murray Abraham, in the title role of the current Classic Stage Company production, fails to provide sufficient gravitational force to set this intellectual examination of the battle between science and religion twirling."
David Sheward for Back Stage
"Generates surprisingly little emotional heat."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
External links to full reviews from popular press...