Galileo Galilei’s mistake was in observing that the earth moves around the sun, in agreement with the theory of Copernicus, and daring to say so. His opinions were denounced as dangerous and “close to heresy” and he was ordered by Cardinal Bellarmin to neither advocate nor teach Copernican astronomy. It’s hard to believe, in this day and age, that such a simple (and monumental) observation would cause such controversy in the religious world. (But then it’s also hard to believe, in this day and age, that we would still be questioning the findings of Charles Darwin, so perhaps we can relate somewhat.)
Barnyard Theater’s fourth season showcases Bertolt Brecht’s “Galileo,” directed by Steven Schmidt. (This is the only version of the play which was specifically written for an American audience, resulting from Brecht’s collaboration with actor Charles Laughton, and staged in 1947.)
While Barnyard Theater traditionally performs its summer offerings in “historic Schmeiser’s Barn” on County Road 31, each year brings new surprises. Last year it was a rotating platform for the audience, rather than for the stage. This year, the entire set has been moved outdoors, with the audience surrounding a rotating stage, flanked by tall platforms at each of the four corners, from which actors introduce each of the various scenes.
Setting this show, which covers the period of time when Galileo first looked at the stars through a telescope through the secret publication of his last book on astronomy, in an open field under the stars was brilliant. (Ian Wallace gets credit for set design and Steven Schmidt for the lighting design) Except for the unexpected arrival of a small plane heading for the UC Davis airport which required more then the usual suspension of disbelief, the audience could imagine itself back in the 16th century, discovering along with Galileo (Andrew Conard) and his apprentice Andrea Sarti (Lindsay Carpenter, as the young Andrea and Dara Yazdani as the adult Andrea), the wonders of the heavens.
Conard gives a solid performance in the title role, appropriately displaying the excitement for new discoveries and the frustration of being forced to compromise his principles to earn a living. This is a man who learns the danger of holding heretical opinions in the age of the Inquisition. Conard was always an actor to watch as he moved through roles with Acme Theater and it’s good to see him blossom as an adult actor.
Lindsay Carpenter does an excellent job as the young apprentice, sharing his teacher’s excitement, and looking on his mentor as a hero, which makes Yazdani’s disillusionment as the adult Sarti learns of the motivations that forced his teacher to make compromises his life understandable. Yazdani has always been a promising young actor and he does not disappoint in this role.
There are sixteen members in the cast, many of them playing several small roles. Some are better than others, but all are more than competent.
Bethany Bishop handles the role of Mrs. Sarti, Galileo’s outspoken maid well. She is a constant element of calm in the sea of controversy that often surrounds her master and she presents an air of respectful insubordination toward the man who has taken her son on as a pupil.
Virginia, Galileo’s daughter, devoted her life to her father, sacrificing her own happiness. Joanna Swan creates a loving, sympathetic character, who remains quite religious and continues to pray for her father throughout the play, even though his heretical views have broken up her marriage to Ludovico (Josh van Eyken).
Anthony Pinto, who is always perfect for sarcastic characters, is Federzoni, the Mechanic, the man who grinds lenses for Galileo. Federzoni represents “everyman,” as Galileo, who believed that science belonged to the common man, includes him in discussion of his discoveries and insists that all conversations be held in the vernacular, since Federzoni speaks no Latin.
A trio of cardinals are played by Maddy Ryen, Mark Carpenter and Alicia Hunt, with Hunt as Cardinal Barberini, who later became Pope Urban VIII. The scene of dressing the pope was well done.
Laurel Cohen gets credit for costume design, some of which are more utilitarian while others are quite luxurious, leading to the suspicion that some Madrigal costumes may have been borrowed for the production.
Again, Barnyard Theater has come up with an interesting, well directed and acted production. It’s worth the price of admission to experience the play under the stars, but be sure to bring a jacket and your mosquito repellant!