Let's Talk Off Broadway

Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: Charles Laughton

Review | Galileo by Bertolt Brecht | Translated by Charles Laughton | Directed by Brian Kulick | Choreographed by Tony Speciale | With F. Murray Abraham, Robert Dorfman and Amanda Quaid | Classic Stage Company

The conflict in Galileo is iconic:  freedom of ideas vs. censorship.  Brecht peppers his play and his character of Galileo (1564-1642 ) with some Marxist views which are anachronistic but the play triggers thought and thrills one at the power of human intellect.

Everybody’s having a good time looking through the telescope Galileo has recently perfected, and figuring out its benefits and fiscal profits.  Galileo, short of money, wouldn’t mind reaping some profit, too, but fundamentally he’s peering into his telescope in his quest for truth, recording his observations, and thinking about them.  His observations and calculations reveal to him that the earth rotates around the sun, not the other way around.

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Review | Brecht’s Life of Galileo | Translated by Charles Laughton | Fourth in the Classic Stage series of Brecht dramatic readings

See the previous post in this series, The Good Person of Sezuan, by Bertolt BrechtDefending Truth

The life and science of Galileo are so inherently dramatic that, I think, they led Brecht somewhat astray as a dramatist–he thought a total play wasn’t needed.  Wasn’t all the drama a playwright could want already there in the searing conflict between Galileo’s heliocentrism and the Church’s no-holds-barred defense of its geocentric doctrine?  What confrontation could be more elemental than that between Science and Dogma–Galileo vs the Inquisition–with its notorious outcome in which Galileo is forced to recant publicly the truths of sciences?  Brecht is a playwright of ideas but in his best plays he includes other paraphernalia of great theater:  living characters engaged in meaningful conflicts with high stakes (at least to them).  In The Life of Galileo, translated by Charles Laughton, the conflict could not be more significant–truth itself is at stake.  Yet characters live mainly as mouthpieces of ideas.

Maybe, also, that’s why the play is jam packed with marvelous lines and memorable aphorisms:  “Truth is the daughter of time, not the author.”  “I have no patience with a man who doesn’t use his brains to fill his belly.”  They help keep us going–luckily!

Because in working out the implications of Galileo’s recantation, Brecht’s ingenious humanism comes into play, raising the importance of this flawed drama.  True, the recantation of the famous scientist is taken throughout Europe as a set-back for science.  But bear in mind, as Brecht make sure we do, that Galileo was shown the very instruments of torture in a purposeful, programmed climax to his interrogation by the Inquisition.  Hence Brecht’s implicit challenges in this play:  Why would you expect Galileo to act otherwiseWhy do you rely on heroes?  and the essential Brecht:  Rely on yourselves.  For this playwright, Galileo is not a failed hero:  he is a man with extraordinary brains and insight who is quite normally human in his fear of pain and love of pleasure.  “Unhappy is the land that has no hero,” a disillusioned assistant moans, visiting Galileo during his life-time sentence of house arrest.  “Unhappy is the land that needs a hero,” is Galileo’s fast retort.

Brian Kulick, Artistic Director of Classic Stage who directed the reading of The Life of Galileo  for the First Look series, treated us to the two extant endings of the play:  one hopeless, one hopeful.  Immediate:  while I was still in the theater, winding down from the reading, I took the hopeless ending to be the “true” one, but in thinking about all I have learned from these readings of four Brecht plays, in reflecting on Brecht’s humanism, and on Classic Stage’s genereosity and high achievement,  I’m leaning toward “hopeful.”

Nearby restaurant favorite — Cafe Deville, 103 3rd Avenue

Next Week:  The Oedipus Cycle at Pearl Theatre

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