“I’ll explain it to you,” says Marianne James’s Galileo to the Little Monk (Hanna Brock) at the end of a scene, in which he—despite the gender blind casting, the play sticks to the script’s original pronouns—has convinced the cleric of his frequently rhapsodized “truth” and “reason.”
And this act of explanation, along with the play’s evident themes of truth and science, is what Life of Galileoseems to be all about. Marianne James as Galileo is a natural teacher: the play begins with Galileo explaining the heliocentric theory to young Andrea (Alasdair Linn) in a way most endearing and dependable, as James makes great use of her low-pitched, steady voice.
Galileo’s life, according to this production, is a life of explaining things—truths—to the world. As a leading character, he almost always keeps his place firmly onstage, as firmly as he tirelessly spells out his discoveries and reason to his friends, Ludovico, the church, the court, and the truth-blind 17thcentury society he inhabits. So it is fitting that both his life and the play Life of Galileoend with explanation, as he describes his motives and life to the grown-up Andrea, to whom the torch has been passed on, and who goes on to tell others of science and its possibilities, in a final scene reminiscent of the opening with Galileo as his teacher.
Interestingly, this theme of explanation extends to the physical stage and its visuals: the production’s structure overall reminds us of the classroom, or, as the university students in the audience find more fitting, the lecture theatre. The narrative is clearly explained and delineated through captioned slides projected on the stage backdrop, which give us not only a summary, but also an idea of the time frame of each scene, as a teacher or lecturer’s presentation slides would. This didactic, or explanatory, effect is reinforced by the colored orb lamps and the pieces of related art projected during select scenes, all of which are classroom-like devices that lead the audience to feel instructed first by Galileo on his truth, then by the production on Galileo’s life.
Life of Galileo is a play about big questions and big truths, about un-blinding people and explaining away to willfully deaf ears. Some audience members may initially flinch from its didactic features. Yet, as the play progresses, it is this glaring didacticism that provokes us not only to be taught of Galileo’s life story, but to think it over and question his duties as a scientist—not only to know and accept truths, but to feel their weight on our heads and ask ourselves: are we seeing with our reason, or our social dispositions? Or, in Life of Galileo fashion: are we not perchance being “criminal,” as was the Roman church in Galileo’s time, in our deliberate blindness to facts, breaking news, and the world we live in?