Bertolt Brecht's historical drama enters Classic Stage Company's orbit.
Fri Feb 24 2012
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
Outside the classroom, there are two ways to encounter the great, fading Bertolt Brecht: Either he's aestheticized out of relevance, as Robert Wilson did with last year's slick, all-attitude Threepenny Opera at BAM; or he's rendered glumly earnest and didactic, which is the sin committed by Brian Kulick's toothless Galileo at Classic Stage Company. Despite fiery flashes by F. Murray Abraham as the Italian astronomer who challenged Catholic dogma, this revival (which uses the 1947 adaptation by Charles Laughton) never sends us into the stratosphere of philosophical or political fervor. It remains earthbound, orbiting an nonthreatening notion of Galileo as an irascible but decent hero.
Those versed in the original German can determine whether a fresh translation or a more radical staging would have solved the stodginess problem. While it feels churlish to yawn at a major work rarely attempted, you feel that Kulick fails to make a case for a play that pits science against superstition—then goes further and underscores the cracks between advancing knowledge and social progress. These days, in which religious hypocrites enjoy the benefits of applied science while casting doubt on, say, evolution or climate change, we need a production that speaks truth to powerful ignorance.
This isn't it. Instead, Galileo comes across as a collegiate costume drama with some good speeches but a lot of plodding verbiage and trite rhyming couplets between scenes. The supporting cast includes strong players (Steven Skybell and Steven Rattazzi), but the rest are so blandly directed or green that they actually seem to muddle or inhibit Abraham. He's a mighty, radiant orb of acting power, our F. Murray, but enough minor asteroids can throw him off course.