'Galileo' Charts Intimate Course; Van Griethuysen Role Nuanced

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 31, 2003 | Go to article overview

'Galileo' Charts Intimate Course; Van Griethuysen Role Nuanced


Byline: Jayne Blanchard, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Ted van Griethuysen seems born to play whatever role he's in, whether it's the haunted academic A.E. Housman in "The Invention of Love," or the majestic Phillip II in "Don Carlos." Now, he brings to rugged, flawed life the brilliant 17th-century scientist Galileo in Studio Theatre's production of Bertolt Brecht's "The Life of Galileo," newly and bracingly translated by playwright David Hare.

For all of the play's intellectualism and labored contemplation of the nature of man, it is the intimacy and human drama teased out of the material by Mr. Hare that stays with you. Indeed, the debates pitting science against faith and society against morality are compelling. Yet the portrait of Galileo - an intellect who can plot the heavens, but a man oblivious to the intentions of the people surrounding him - is what gives the play mercy and depth.

Galileo is determined to prove that the Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun, rather than the opposite, knowing full well that the Roman Catholic Church believes such theories are heresy. While he may have his head literally in the clouds, Galileo as played by Mr. van Griethuysen is not the stereotypical distracted scientist. Instead, he is a man compromised by his appetites. He likes good food and wine, likes to live well and is perpetually in debt. And he is not without guile: He passes off a telescope from the Netherlands as his own invention and is handsomely rewarded by his wealthy patrons.

Like many a sensualist, Galileo is so finely tuned that he crumbles at the mere suggestion of pain. When the church finally gets enough of Galileo's threatening theories and begins an "investigation," the Cardinal Inquisitor (the silken-voiced George Tynan Crowley) need only show him the instruments of torture to get him to recant.

The character of Galileo is further revealed in his dealings with other people. He is doing great things and can't be bothered with social niceties. He is shockingly dismissive of his sensitive daughter, Virginia (Bette Cassatt, in a lovely, shaded performance), and blithely cavalier to his protege, Andrea Sarti (Rob McClure), and his lab assistants. His failure to read people's true motives brings about his downfall.

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