Chicago Theatre Review
Remy Bumppo’s ‘Life of Galileo’ a Rich, Vibrant Embrace of Truth
Life of Galileo – Remy Bumppo Theatre
It a very interesting experiencing, watching Bertolt Brecth’s ‘Life of Galileo’ on an American stage. A highly detailed, highly Shakespearian telling of the great scientist’s life – its principles, its accomplishments, its failures – there is a cruel irony to watching the play in today’s toxic climate, one in which the basic tenets of science (evolution) are denied and its more urgent breakthroughs (stem cell research, climate change) are actively challenged. In short, Brecht’s Galileo states that “thinking is one of the great pleasures of being alive.” He would find much to rail against in 21st century America.
Beginning with his innovations in telescope design and ending with his Vatican-mandated house arrest, ‘Life of Galileo’ covers an enormous range of material, and thankfully does not skimp on the underlying science. Do not fret – we are not subjected to line-by-line recitations of Galileo’s books, but rather, are treated to wonderfully intuitive explanations of: the earth’s orbit; how Galileo’s insights on Jupiter’s moons confirmed the Copernicus solar system; and of how gravity does in fact treat all things equal, the item’s weight and size be damned. All the while, Galileo heroically confronts the dictatorial powers of the Catholic Church, which was the governing body of Italy at time and sought to bury all dissent and inquiry that was contrary to both the Bible and Aristotle…although in the hands of Brecht – arguably theater’s most noted Marxists – Galileo’s battles with the church are cast in a delightfully modern class-based light, one that is very relevant to the 2016 campaign of Bernie Sanders.
The relevancy of Brecht’s text, though, would not hit home without Remy Bumppo’s outstanding production, one that modernizes the 17th century characters while retaining their purpose. Directed with great precision by Nick Sandys, the cast is uniformly excellent – Shawn Douglass makes for a passionate, prickly Galileo, while Blake Montgomery and Stephen Spencer (who was excellent in the Gift Theatre world premiere “Body + Blood”) excel across a multitude of roles. Compliments must also be paid to Joe Klug’s inventive scenic design, which coats the full expanse of Greenhouse Theater’s performance space in chalk-based designs and theorems.
All in all, ‘Life of Galileo’ is an essential play for the America of today, and one that audiences should eagerly see – scientific literacy notwithstanding!
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through May 1 by Remy Bumppo Theatre Company at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln, Chicago
Tickets are available by calling (773) 404-7336 or by visiting www.RemyBumppo.org
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.