For one so curious a creature as myself, I find it interesting and a bit sad even that I wasn’t familiar with who invented the television prior to seeing the Farnsworth Invention at Palo Alto Players. I don’t think that question so much as even crossed my mind somehow until that moment in the theater. And, maybe that is precisely why Aaron Sorkin in part took on this topic. To take for granted this invention, those that struggled and raced to invent it, and then finally the global impact that followed as a result, is a bit of a tragedy in my book. Suffice to say, through a fantastic play and production, now the question has not only crossed my mind but invited itself into it, had a few shots of hard liquor with it and given it an unexpectedly lusty goodnight kiss.
This play has so much…just so MUCH! It’s a history lesson, a crash course in the stock market, a prime example of how capitalism works, a detailed account of the dependency of scientific progress on marketability and thus profitability and a love letter to the pursuit of exploration and the trust of scientific/human instinct. And it’s all wrapped up in a smart, intense, riveting, poetic, wonderfully staged, performed and produced play. I’m still thinking about all it did, all it covered, encompassed, embraced, encouraged, debated and educated. Its rhythm. Its heart. Its wit. Its warning. Its hope.
Such a clever structure, such a metaphorical vehicle for all the themes, themes I identified with, enjoyed and was entertained by. This play desperately made me wish I’d been born before that space shuttle left for the moon. To live in a time before technology’s last 60 years of rapid advancement. To experience the largest of those leaps into the future of our making. Such huge strides in such short amounts of time and yet, having been born in 1975 in Palo Alto, the center of the “revolution”, I’ll likely never experience that same kind of awe and wonder that those who watched a rocket to the moon for the first time felt. While it still blows my mind daily that computers are essentially made of sand and we have a rover transmitting pictures from Mars…this play really made me think about human nature, our evolution, the capabilities our brains have, our capacities for healing and for greed. And, all presented so balanced. Like a dance, like a court hearing, two forces, two perspectives, two stories, blending, overlapping, the muddling of facts by virtue of perspective. Just, fascinating.
First and foremost, I know I rag on the use of video as a trend that is mostly unnecessary and often experiences a sub par execution in theater these days, but this production proved a perfect example of when and how it should be used. A really well thought out artistic vision for the video components and a technically fantastic result both enhanced and complimented the piece, while also providing vital practical services. Super high-five for all those video bits from curtain speech and post intermission treat to the closing credit which punctuated even further the soul of Farnsworth himself.
This is an enthralling piece that appeals to my personal quest for knowledge (also known as the I-wonder-how-that-oh-hey-let-me-look-that-up gene). It hit me intellectually, but the production itself spoke artistically to me too. There were elements of “choreography” that at first seemed very off, forced and even silly, but as the story progressed it very quickly became completely justified AND not just that, but a really fun and powerful detail.
The actors were GREAT. Leads and ensemble alike, very well cast, and thank goodness for the decision makers who opted to let the raw reality of this piece shine sans body mics! While there were moments when actors were speaking upstage that got a bit too soft to hear from the center of the audience, I much preferred that with a natural tone to the difficulties and artificial ambiance that mics so often cast. Especially with the variety of heated and tender moments, that flexibility to let the actors be “normal” and not have to adjust to a mic, really helped the drama feel authentic and resonate on its own merit.
My cheeks hurt from smiling so much, anticipating the next clever step, relishing those asides to the audience that let me know it was okay if I wasn’t catching it all, they were going to help me along… rooting for the underdog, applauding the motivations and ambition of two very different men. Feeling that clock ticking as time runs out and sanity is at the breaking point, searching for answers that are “just engineering”… this play just undeniably captured my brain and then it dug down deep and got me in the gut.
Line stumbles and ironically enough some “light problems” were distracting, but by and large will likely not be present for future audiences, and it is a cold theater and a heavy load with regard to taking in everything thrown at you, but it’s well worth the venture. WELL WORTH IT.
I’m going with a 5 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for an original, sharp, challenging theater piece taken by a group that understood, respected and revered the material and presented it in an equally original, sharp and challenging way. The Farnsworth Invention plays through June 29th at the Lucie Stern Center Theater in Palo Alto.