Seeing the world premiere of a new play can be a very exciting experience, especially when that play comes from a celebrated playwright such as Jessica Dickey and is produced by a theater as highly respected as Remy Bumppo Theatre Company.
Galileo’s Daughter is a new play now making its grand entrance into the world of live theatre with a stunningly good production at Chicago’s Theatre Wit.
Dickey is a celebrated, award-winning playwright who has been heralded by The New York Times and New Yorker Magazine for her Off-Broadway masterpieces. Chicago previously saw a sold out run of her play The Rembrandt starring John Mahoney at Steppenwolf Theatre. She has also created programs for television and in May will see the publication of a new book from Pilgrim Press.
Galileo’s Daughter is a semi-autobiographical tale inspired by Dickey’s real-life experience going to Italy to research the actual letters of Sister Maria Celeste, the illegitimate daughter of famed astronomer, physicist, and engineer Galileo Galilei.
The story of Galileo is generally known by most, if not intimately. He is credited with defining the laws of motion and introducing the principles of relativity. Of particular relevance to this play, he is also credited with improving the design of the telescope which enabled him to observe the universe.
It is while observing the sky via telescope that he came to the realization that the earth rotates around the sun. This was in contrast to the interpretation of the Bible at the time that the earth was the center of the universe. This conflict led to Galileo facing trail by the Catholic Church for heresy – being forced to recant and spend the rest of his life under house arrest.
Many probably don’t even know of the existence of Galileo’s daughter in history, much less that she was instrumental in his research and herself excelled in many areas of science.
Galileo actually had three children, all out of wedlock. He had two daughters and one son: Virginia born in 1600, Livia born in 1601, and Vincenzo born in 1606. However, this play only focuses on the relationship of Galileo with first daughter Virginia who would take the name Mary Celeste upon entering the convent.
Like her father, Virginia believed in God and followed the teachings of the church, but life in a convent was not her goal in life. At the time, girls had to be either married or in a convent, and girls born out of wedlock were not considered marriable – barbaric principles by today’s standards.
The play Galileo’s Daughter takes the little-known relationship between father and daughter and develops it into something truly touching – evoking such things as sympathy, respect, enlightenment, and even a few chuckles. All in all, Galileo’s Daughter is a well-rounded theatrical delight.
The play though is also just as much about the character of a writer inspired by Dickey herself. Facing a life-changing event in her personal relationships, the writer travels to Florence to study the actual letters Sister Maria Celeste wrote to her father after entering the convent. In total, 124 of Maria Celeste’s letters were discovered. Those interested can actually read the letters via The Galileo Project.
In the play, the writer’s goal is to compose a theatrical piece based upon her research into Galileo and Maria Celeste, and at the same time come to terms with changes in her personal life. But as she reflects on her journey to Italy, we see the workings of the writer’s mind spring to life as she alternates between observing the two subjects of her research and fancifully interacting with them.
As Galileo, Chiké Johnson gives a simply phenomenal performance. Johnson’s resume reflects extensive background in theatre, film, and television – including Shakespearean roles. His performance as Galileo has the almost royal intonations that one often associates with Shakespeare. He commands the stage with a regal elegance.
In addition to being a fan of live theatre, I am also one who enjoys a good sci-fi television show. As such, I have found that Shakespearean trained actors like Patrick Stewart and Avery Brooks often make for the best Star Trek characters. Johnson could easily fit into that world. He has that level of talent and charisma.
As Galileo’s daughter, Emily Bosco is making her Chicago debut. She is a very adept actress who finds and displays all sorts of nuances in her character. While Bosco has a clear talent for delivering dialogue, she doesn’t need words to convey emotions. The scene in which she reluctantly enters the convent, giving up freedom for the rest of her life, is one of the most powerful in the entire production. Bosco’s face and body say it all.
Both Johnson and Bosco also play additional characters in the play. Both do an excellent job of presenting clearly different personas. It is the ancillary characters that provide the most humor in the show – which are a delightful change of pace that keeps the 80 minutes show from ever getting stagnant.
CONNECTING WITH THE AUDIENCE
Remy Bumppo core ensemble member Linda Gillum captures the attention and adoration of the audience right from the beginning of the play. When Gillum introduces herself to the audience, many are inspired by the personal nature of her charm to think she is actually the playwright herself. It is only as the play goes on that we realize she is not the writer of the show but the character of a writer within the show.
Gillum does an excellent job with the character. She is an incredible actress who knows how to command the spotlight when called for, and to cast a more subtle presence when needed. If anything could be added to her performance, it would be to instill more of that personal relationship with the audience as the play goes on. That is when she is truly magical.
Director Marti Lyons deserves a great deal of credit for the enjoyability of this fine piece of theatre. The artistic director at Remy Bumppo, Lyons has staged productions for Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Lookingglass Theatre Company, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, American Players Theatre, Writers Theatre, Northlight Theatre, and Victory Gardens Theater. Her production of Jen Silverman’s Witch earned her an LA Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Direction. Galileo’s Daughter marks yet another incredible success for the talented director.
Instrumental in creating the magic of Galileo’s Daughter are the very detailed set by Yeaji Kim and the inclusion of projections designed by John Boesche. Sound design and original music by Christopher Kriz also contribute greatly, as does lighting design by Becca Jeffords, costumes by Finnegan Chu, and props by Amanda Herrmann.
Remy Bumppo Theatre Company’s world premiere production of Galileo’s Daughter is one to put on your dance card. It runs Thursdays through Sundays at Theatre Wit through May 14. Theatre Wit is a wonderful performance venue with an always engaging staff located at 1229 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. For tickets visit www.RemyBuppo.org or call the Theatre Wit box office at (773) 975-8150.
Originally published by Northwest Herald/Shaw Media.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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