Friday, December 14, 2007

Starry Messenger

What if you could come back to life in, oh, say three or four hundred years and find out how things that were important in your life all turned out?

That’s the premise of “The Starry Messenger,” a 75 minute one-act play by Rick Foster now at Capital Stage for one more week prior to being made available for travel to schools for the 2007-2008 academic year.

“The Starry Messenger” is part of a series of touring plays by Duende Drama, a group out of Sonora, which has been touring these educational mini-plays to area schools since 1998 and which has recently teamed with California Stage to reach out to local county schools. Judging by the rapt attention from the audience, comprised of a sprinkling of adults among a crowd of young people, the program is wildly successful.

The setting is “a school assembly in California.” Sister Maria Celeste (played by Keri Fuller on the night we attended, but alternating with Bonnie Antonini) wheels in a draped figure in a wheelchair. She introduces herself as the daughter of Galileo Galilei and explains that he has been dead since 1642, and that since his death he has been so depressed he has refused to wake up again because he feels that his work was for naught. It is her plan to bring him back and show that the world ultimately accepted his concepts. She elicits the help of the audience to literally raise the dead by chanting “the earth moves around the sun” over and over again.

The draped figure stands, looking dazed at hearing what he feels are the voices of angels, and begins to speak. It is Galileo himself, played by 84 year old Mitch Agruss (whom some may remember from the years when he was the beloved “Captain Mitch” on the popular local TV program). Agruss is a robust man with a twinkle in his eye who grabs the audience instantly as he begins to interact with his daughter.

Over the next hour plus, an amazing amount of physics and world history is imparted in delightful, entertaining fashion so that learning the effect Copernicus had on Galileo’s life, or how the Catholic Church felt about his work was as easy to absorb as the plot of “High School Musical.”

Physics and astronomy concepts were reinforced with easy to understand visual aids, and there is even a bit of suspense leading to the scientist’s discovery that his theory of the movement of the tides was not accurate.

This production is part play, part classroom, but it is as enjoyable as any other play, and it’s worth the prices of admission if only to see an old veteran thespian like Agruss strut his stuff.

While Agruss is the heart and soul of this play, Fuller was the motor which kept it moving smoothly. Her irresistible wide-eyed enthusiasm kept the audience’s attention and if Agruss faltered slightly, her non-stop narration was able to get him back on track with slip hardly noticeable.

“The Starry Messenger,” in conjunction with two other plays, will be available for school productions after the first of the year, but this is equally enjoyable (and informative!) for adults and would be a fun one-act play to share with a young person during the holiday season, if one is looking for something fun to do with the kids during the vacation period.

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