Bertolt Brecht, a playwright skilled in raising humanitarian issues, would seem ideal in our present, tumultuous political climate. Though Galileo might not have been an obvious choice. Undermain, though, was savvy to stage Galileo. However subtle the analogy, a brilliant astronomer challenging the nature of our relationship to the heavens, feels perfect for the occasion. Galileo’s research and revelations flew in the face of the papacy, who feared the implications if earth was not at the center of the universe.
Ironically, Galileo wasn’t pompous or lofty. He wasn’t seeking notoriety, though he appreciated his increased earning abilities. He was a very practical, down to earth scientist, with a burning hunger for knowledge and grasping the truth. For him, truth and piety weren’t incompatible. It’s intriguing to note that Brecht never lionizes Galileo, nor does he diminish him. Early in the story, Galileo appropriates the idea of the telescope (improves upon) and cashes in on it. He seems to take great satisfaction in cracking open the mysterious world and sharing what he discovers with his students. All things considered, he’s fairly humble (which is not to say obsequious). Yet the power structure perceives him as an anarchist. An iconoclast. Galileo simply strives to bring civilization out of darkness.
Undermain has created a splendid theatrical allegory here. They capitalize on the contrast between Galileo’s pragmatic demeanor, and the scintillating cosmos that never fails to astonish him. Bruce DuBose (as Galileo) captures the essence of his genius, who is cynical enough to recognize ignorance and superstition, but credulous enough to revere the miraculous, even when it’s made comprehensible.
I was surprised that they used period costumes, but Amanda Capshaws designs are rich, vibrant and witty. John Arnone’s set design transforms the stage into a kind of star chart, or altar. The delicate, effulgent constellations are subdued, yet dazzling, evoking that ache we feel when gazing skyward. Undermain’s Galileo grapples with humanity’s never-ending upheaval over issues that may not actually have anything to do with the quality of existence. Then rises above it.
Undermain presents Galileo, playing February 8th-March 5th, 2017. 3200 Main Street, Dallas, Texas 75226. 214-747-5515. www.undermain.org [ Free Covered Parking at 3300 Commerce Street.]