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Remy Bumppo’s “The Life of Galileo” Review – Bertold Brecht’s Take on “The Itch”

By Amy Munice

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Artistic Associate Shawn Douglass and Stephen Spencer


In Brecht’s time they were the handmaidens of a newly invented weapon, the atomic bomb, which threatened (and threatens) to destroy humankind.   Today their number might also include biologists who see danger in genetically-modified food and engineered seeds and NASA scientists trying to get the world to look at the plain-speaking data signaling that climate change was and is real.   One can even imagine a biostatistician in some corner of the Vatican urging the Pope to re-consider Church doctrine on reproduction in light of climate change or Zika. 


(left to right) Todd Michael Kiech, Kelsey Brennan, and Kevin Matthew Reyes


Scientists all, their work and observations mingle in a world of power and politics that ultimately determines if, when and how the facts they uncover are brought to light.   


The cast of The Life of Galileo


In Brecht’s script “The Life of Galileo”, we get a very cerebral exploration of how scientists’ “itch” to explore the universe plays out within power structures that need either to co-opt their skills (viz. the Manhattan Project) or find a way to muzzle them. 



What better poster boy for this treatise-as-play than Galileo, whom so many branches of modern science seek to call their father. 


This intellectual terrain is what Brecht’s much worked on and over play “The Life of Galileo” is about.  Remy Bumppo, no stranger to bringing verbally rich manuscripts to life, does an admirable job in making Brecht’s play more accessible.  


(left to right) Susaan Jamshidi, Stephanie Diaz, Artistic Associate Shawn Douglass, and Stephen Spencer


We get a very human Galileo and an especially moving soliloquy near the end of the play from Shawn Douglass.   When Blake Montgomery as Barberini dons his papal robes his every gesture conveys the devotion to ritual in all things church.   One moment Kevin Matthew Reyes is a bratty Medici prince, and the next he is a spiritually troubled priest with mathematical inclinations.  


Ensemble Member Kelsey Brennan


Kelsey Brennan makes her trouser role of Andrea Sarti totally believable and perhaps the strongest emotional lever in the play. 


Ensemble Member Kelsey Brennan and Artistic Associate Shawn Douglass


These and all others—there is nothing in the acting one can fault.


(left to right) Susaan Jamshidi, Henry Bolzon, Caleb Probst, and Artistic Associate Shawn Douglass


That said and sacrilegious as it sounds, Brecht’s script remains a wordy thicket that enmeshes layer upon layer of ideas and intellectual observations on the audience, often diverting attention from the dramatic tension inherent in the real tale or the parallels in Brecht’s real life that the script attempts to resonate.   


(left to right) Caleb Probst, Todd Michael Kiech, Stephanie Diaz, Ensemble Member Kelsey Brennan, Kevin Matthew Reyes, and Artistic Associate Shawn Douglass


If you love plays that target your noggin more than your passion this is a top pick to not miss.  This reviewer however wishes that David Hare’s translation had left more words on the cutting room floor. The real-world tale seems far more dramatic than the script’s telling.


Now through May 1.


Greenhouse Theater Center

2257 North Lincoln Avenue

Chicago, IL


For tickets or information call 773 404 7336 or visit the Remy Bumppo website.



Photo Credit: Johnny Knight Photography




Published on Apr 17, 2016

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