Theater Review: 'Galileo' -- 3 stars
Although Bertolt Brecht revolutionized modern drama with his concept of "epic theatre" - designed to remind the audience that they are watching a play and should think critically about it instead of sympathizing with the characters - his plays are rarely revived in New York.
Five years ago, the Public Theater produced "Mother Courage and Her Children," his most famous play, mainly because Meryl Streep wanted to play the title role. At this point, his most familiar title is probably the musical "The Threepenny Opera," which has a score by Kurt Weill.
"Galileo," which is hardly ever staged, was written in 1937 and revised by Brecht a decade later. Set in the 1600s, it observes scientific philosopher Galileo Galilei's professional and personal life from the time he popularized the telescope to his silencing by the Vatican under threat of torture for his belief that the Earth revolves around the sun.
Brecht intended the play to be an ethical parable bursting with debate about conformity versus challenging the status quo.
Brian Kulick's accessible and intimate production takes full advantage of Brecht's direct style, with some explanatory dialogue spoken directly to the audience before each scene, but it thankfully avoids becoming overly didactic.
Oscar winner and classical theater star F. Murray Abraham delivers a warm, charming portrayal of Galileo that captures the character's good humor, ambitions and fears.
When he confesses to a pupil at the end that he bowed to the Vatican because he did not want to be tortured, you see not a brave heliocentrist or an antihero, but a scared, recognizable man concerned about both scientific breakthroughs and his own survival.
The set mainly consists of a circular platform, with large balloons representing the planets hanging above the audience's head. Images of the moon and solar system are also projected onto a large circle on the back wall. The cast wears elaborate period costumes evoking the Italian Renaissance.
If you go: "Galileo" plays at Classic Stage through March 18. 136 E. 13th St., 212-352-3101, classicstage.org.