By Jennifer Mustoe, Craig Mustoe and Sophie Determan
Every once in a while, I go to a performance that is so amazing, it is beyond description. However, I am a reviewer and want to share what I’ve seen, so I will do my best to describe Galileo, written by Bertolt Brecht and directed by Davey Morrison Dillard. Because I don’t want to make this review so long you’ll skim through it, I am going to write the most concise I can be. It will not be enough.
Here’s what I can tell you: Dillard gathered many acting devices for this multi-layered performance–more than I’ve ever seen in one production. The beginning and the end had all cast members holding hands, facing toward the audience and singing in harmony, while Galileo stood in the middle, a piece of chalk in his hand, making markings on the round, slightly elevated stage in the middle of the room. It is a small-ish room above the Castle Theater in Provo. More about the space later, written by Sophie.
From the moment Barrett Ogden as Galileo begins his scribbling, the audience is engaged. Ogden is a force of nature, as Galileo is shown to be. I admit, I knew little to nothing about Galileo except the barest inkling. And this play is not completely historically correct. But the essence of the inventor/mathematician is encapsulated in the Brecht work and in Ogden himself. What impressed me and my husband Craig most was the energy Ogden had, showing the passion of younger Galileo. But as he aged, Ogden was able to show Galileo as old, blinding and fragile in an equally believable manner.
The rest of the cast plays many parts and the use of costume pieces and masks keeps the characters distinct. I am going to list all the actors in the show, as there aren’t that many. However, I make mention particularly of Shawn Saunders, who plays a young boy, Andrea, (as well as smaller roles:Scholar, Secretary) who is tutored by Galileo and becomes his compatriot to the mathematian when he’s older. Again, Saunders ages very believably as well as conveys the wonder that young Andrea has, and his anger and disappointment with Galileo later in life.
Each actor has the dexterity to play old and young, often male and female, small parts and principals. Emily Dabczynski plays Virginia, Galileo’s daughter with a delightful starry-eyed youthfulness, Elderly Lady, Christopher Clavius, and Singer’s Wife. Andy Hansen plays Ludovico, and his passion as this character is palpable. He also plays Lord Chamberlain, Monk, Town Crier, Customs Officer. Alex Ungerman as Federzoni is great. And as his other lesser characters, he truly shows his chops as a brilliant actor: Curator, Old Cardinal, Inquisitor. Jessamyn Svensson as Mrs. Sarti, Cardinal Barberini, Monk, and Child was a favorite of Sophie’s and of mine. Addison Radle as Sagredo, Cardinal Bellarmin, Prelate, Philosopher, and Official has much of the “fun” in this play, as Radle is a wonderful actor with the ability to make us smile with his amazing physical comedy and presence. Noah Kershisnik (singing and playing his guitar in many scenes) plays Singer, Informer Mathematician, Senator, Monk, Secretary, Servant. Jamie McKinney (Little Monk; Prince Cosimo de Medici, Clerk) and Jessica Myer (Mattie, Boy, Young Lady, Scholar, Peasant) round out the amazing cast.
It would be hard to explain this show (which is why I insist you go see it) but Dillard employed so many devices, I need to highlight some:
• For scene changes, he projects a poem on the wall that shows what the scene will contain. One actor comes out and either sings, acts out, or says the poem. One fun transition had two actors doing this poem as a patty-cake.
• Music was implemented throughout and added layers to what could be a rather dry production.
• Many of the actors broke the fourth wall and it seemed very natural and not forced. And not threatening.
• We are told this entire production was pulled together in three weeks, only fourteen rehearsals. This is almost unbelievable, considering the quality of the work.
After the show, I told Dillard that I felt I had been to a feast and it would take me a while to absorb all that I saw. And there is really no way for me to describe what I can only call a theatrical experience.
My only criticism about Galileo is this: it seemed to me that the script could have been cut a bit as there were many monologues that said the same thing throughout the production. The first act was very long. And to go along with that, the chairs are very hard and I got very squirmy by the end of Act One.
From Sophie: One of the strongest aspects of the performance was their use of the space. Theater in the round is always tricky to pull off, and not only did they use every ounce of the interior space to create everything from the Pope’s court to a peasant’s hut, they also played with open windows, multiple doors, and whole off-stage conversations. The all-immersive nature of the set – particularly the period-accurate candle lighting and cozy knickknacks – made the audience feel like they were truly in someone’s home. For me, this heightened my interest in the characters since I also felt part of their world.
The grotesque Venetian masks were one of the cleverest visual elements in the play. Not only did they allow a company of 10 to portray around 40 distinguishable characters, but they created such a marvelously dark atmosphere that even a scribe silently taking notes looked menacing. The costumes themselves ranged from neutral head-to-toe blacks all the way to glittering masquerade cloaks, yet all seemed to blend together into a neat whole due to the strong character choices of the actors. A paper crown or a monk’s robe would create a completely new person on stage.
The cast was remarkably smooth with the overall execution of the story (especially when factoring in the Chinese fire drill-like costume and set changes), and the use of live music to tie the scenes together formed a pleasant balance with the long scenes of dialogue. Occasionally, though, I felt that the cast let their energy run away with them to the point that whole lines were lost, particularly during the tambourine dance scene. But when the energy finally came back down to manageable levels, the silences were tense enough for the audience to hear the crickets outside.
This was a beautiful show that harnessed all the quirky and challenging aspects of its performance space to tell a meaningful story about taking risks and realizing limits. I would recommend it to anyone interested in how some DI atlases and pieces of chalk can re-create the spirit of scientific discovery.
To sum up, this really is a show that shouldn’t be missed, but because of its length and because it is a drama (though there is no profanity or material that would be offensive) I’d suggest teens and older would enjoy this show most. I will say, if I were a high school drama teacher, I’d force my students to go to this show. They would learn a lot.
Because Galileo has such a short run and the space is limited, I would suggest you plan to see it now and buy your tickets online now, if possible. This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you shouldn’t miss it. Also, the theater is a little hard to find, so just keep driving up toward the hospital and follow the signs.
GALILEO by Bertolt Brecht
directed by Davey Morrison Dillard
The Castle Amphitheater, 1300 E. Center St., Provo, UT, 84601
Opens September 19th, Closes September 27th.
Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays, 7:30pm.
General Admission: $10
Tickets available online at https://ticketriver.com/event/12519