July 16, 2004





The ambivalent astronomer


If knowledge is power, its guardians must be politicians of a sort. That's the compelling premise of Bertolt Brecht's "Galileo," in which the 17th century astronomer proves ill equipped to lead the scientific revolution he unleashes.


"Free research has its dangers," proclaims a powerful cleric threatened by Galileo's findings, and it's hard to know whether a complicated character like Brecht--haunted by Hiroshima and swayed by Marxist collectivism--entirely disapproved of this sentiment.


Director Michael Holmes' new production, staged in Glendale's Brand Park, buries most of the author's fascinating ambivalence in stiff costume-drama pageantry; a spirited cast of 23 spends all too much time milling about on the grass in front of a starry sheet, accompanied by severe drum rolls.


John Beckman plays the great man as an ironical Falstaff, rolling his eyes at adversity, dancing a jig in triumph, and finally wallowing in regret. Indeed, Beckman seems to be playing Charles Laughton--who translated the play with Brecht and originated the role at L.A.'s Coronet Theatre in 1947--more than Galileo.


Galileo's nemeses--craven Venetian merchants, paranoid church authorities, oppressive nobles--are mostly nuance-free heavies and fools here, with Clive Rees cutting a particularly unforgiving figure as the Cardinal Inquisitor and Tom Moses amicably chewing the scenery as a flustered businessman.


The show's highlight is an exchange between Galileo and a curious monk (Matt Van Curen), who passionately defends the church's care for its downtrodden flock against Galileo's lofty appeals to reason. If more of this "Galileo" had such a dialectical spark, we might feel the pull of its ideas rather than merely observing the motion of its bodies.

--Rob Kendt


"Galileo," Glendale Summer Theater Project, The Action/Reaction Theater Company, at Brand Park, 1601 W. Mountain St., Glendale. 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 16; 7 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, July 24-25. Free; suggested donation $10. (818) 786-1045. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.